Success on the basketball court doesn’t just occur in front of thousands of screaming fans. It doesn’t just come from highlight-reel alley-oop dunks either. In fact, television cameras rarely capture its birth.
It begins in relative solitude – hours before prying eyes peruse every missed shot — in the peaceful serenity of an empty arena.
Well before Penn State’s 78-70 win over Army, Nick Colella and Ross Travis earned that success. Mired in November-long shooting slumps, both were inside the Bryce Jordan Center hours before tipoff trying to capture what has eluded them for long stretches this season.
“Those guys have earned the right to make shots that’s why it’s a little disappointing when the ball isn’t going in for them,” said coach Patrick Chambers. “They’re the first in the gym and the last to leave.”
In six games last month, Colella shot just 4 for 21 (19 percent) with each attempt coming from the 3-point line. Travis finished November 15 for 49 (30 percent), including 1 for 13 (7 percent) from 3-point range.
Against Army, Travis began his pregame shooting regimen at about 1:30 p.m. for the 4 p.m. contest. He shot at least 60 jump shots. About 15 minutes after Travis began, Colella started his workout on the opposite end of the court. They were the only two players on the court.
This isn’t the first time either has worked out before games. Travis has been a consistent early bird all season. And “nobody works harder than Nick Colella,” Chambers has said multiple times.
But sometimes success doesn’t just come because you’ve put in the requisite repetitions — persistence is also needed.
“When you’re working early or working late and you hear a ball bouncing and you look out the window and there’s one of those two guys shooting (you think), ‘Wow, why isn’t the ball going in for them?’” Chambers said. “And then finally … it’s good to see that hard work being paid off for those two guys.”
Against the Black Knights, Colella (3 for 5) tied a career-high with three 3-pointers including a pivotal shot that pushed the Nittany Lions’ lead back to five after Army cut a 14-point second-half advantage to 52-50 with 12 minutes remaining.
Travis continued the hot shooting he began in Philadelphia against La Salle. The sophomore forward scored seven quick points against Army — all on jump shots — including just his second 3-point basket all season. He began the La Salle game similarly by hitting four jumpers in the game’s opening minutes.
Travis finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds against Army for his second career double-double. He also had the dunk of the night when he elevated over Army’s Ella Ellis to catch an alley-oop from D.J. Newbill, which elicited boisterous cheers from most of the 7,247 in attendance on Military Appreciation Night.
“I’m just shooting the ball without thinking about it,” Travis said after the game of his perimeter shooting. “I’m just shooting the ball with confidence so I think that’s playing a huge role.”
Two weeks ago, coaches told Colella he was missing because he wasn’t balanced before, during and after his shot. The senior said he might have been rushing. He finished with nine points and four rebounds against Army.
Both players have improved thus far in December. In three games this month, Colella is 4 for 11 from 3-point range. Travis is 13 for 28 from the field, though 1 for 6 on 3-pointers.
Despite shooting poorly to begin the season, each player still found ways to contribute. Travis is now second in the Big Ten in rebounding at 8.1 per game. Indiana’s Cody Zeller recently usurped him as the conference’s leader. Travis is also tied for third in offensive rebounding (three per game).
Colella leads the team in charges taken and also leads the team in diving on the floor, both stats the Penn State coaching staff covets. He took a charge and drew Ellis’ fifth foul with 6:42 left, ending the Army standouts 23-point afternoon.
But without Tim Frazier, Penn State needs to find consistent offensive help for top scorers Jermaine Marshall (15.1) and D.J. Newbill (14.9). As a result, Colella and Travis will need to continue their confident and aggressive play especially during the last three non-conference games before Big Ten play begins.
“I think you can see that they’re looking for their shots more and I think they’re understanding their roles,” Chambers said. “With Tim being out they have to be a little bit more aggressive, but it’s been good to see them play with their shoulders back and their heads up and not worrying about missing or making shots. So if we can build on that confidence that’s a good thing as the Big Ten approaches.”