Like the name suggests, being a student-athlete is like having two full-time jobs. Separately, each job tests the limits of the body and mind, but if skillfully handled together the combination can create successful young men.
With the fall semester now in the rearview, Penn State can focus entirely on basketball starting with its Sunday-morning contest against New Hampshire at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“Academics is number one,” said head coach Patrick Chambers during his weekly teleconference. “My job is to coach and win games, but the number one thing is to make sure they get their degrees.”
Preparation for finals presented a few hurdles for the Nittany Lions to clear last week in practice.
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“It’s difficult for these kids,” Chambers said. “Puerto Rico was a week before Thanksgiving, so you lost a week and now you’re battling back all semester.”
In order to recoup some of that time, Chambers gave his squad Monday and Tuesday off.
“We’ve given them probably more days off than I have in years past so they can catch up,” Chambers said. “But it does present a major challenge because I know other schools are practicing meanwhile we’re taking days off. We had a team study hall instead of practice on Monday. That’s the little things that you have to do.”
The 11 a.m. tipoff is the first-half of a double-header with the Lady Lions who will take on NJIT at 1:30 p.m.
“You hope that some of the women’s fans who aren’t men’s fans come early and maybe some of the men’s fans stay for the women,” Chambers said. “I used to love double-headers; I grew up on (them) my whole life. It’s great basketball and hopefully it benefits everybody.”
Against the Wildcats, the Nittany Lions (6-4) will hope to continue the shooting rhythm that yielded them back-to-back victories for the first time this season (Army and Delaware State).
Penn State is shooting 50 percent and averaging 79 points in its last two games.
D.J. Newbill led the team in scoring in both and tied a career-high with 22 points against Delaware State, including the game-winning field goal in overtime. He is shooting more than 53 percent from the field and averaging 20.5 points over that span.
Jermaine Marshall continues to develop his all-around game. He dished out a career-high five assists, coupled with seven rebounds and 15 points against the Hornets.
Sasa Borovnjak scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds last week and has been a quality contributor since entering the starting lineup three games ago.
Freshman Donovon Jack played well on both ends and had his most meaningful contribution, which was key given Ross Travis’ foul trouble. Travis fouled out of the Delaware State game but has led Penn State in rebounding in seven of its ten contests.
“Ross Travis getting in foul trouble hurt us and that was very obvious,” Chambers said. “It hurts. It affects your substitutions and end-of-game situations. With that, (Jack) stepped up and played a great 12 minutes and Akosa Maduegbunam got some significant minutes.”
“They have to continue to do it in practice,” Chambers said of his freshmen. “Then their minutes will increase and most importantly (the veterans) will trust them.”
New Hampshire (4-6) is coming off a 61-59 loss at Boston College last week. The Eagles came to the Bryce Jordan Center after Penn State’s upset over Bucknell and won 73-61.
Ferg Myck had a team-high 21 points in the game. The 6-foot-6-senior forward leads the team in scoring with 15.7 points per game and is shooting close to 38 percent from the 3-point line.
In addition to Myck, the Wildcats have three other players who average double-figures. Chris Pelcher, a 6-foot-10-center, averages 12.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. Patrick Konan, a 6-foot-6-forward, averages 12.2 points per game, while 6-foot-4-guard Chandler Rhoads averages 10.8.
Head coach Bill Herrion leads the Wildcats. Chambers faced Herrion while coaching at Boston and credits him with a turning point in his career.
“I have huge respect for coach Bill Herrion,” Chambers said. “If it wasn’t for a beat down at Hew Hampshire (60-48 in 2011) I don’t know if I’d (be here).”
“They exposed us and beat us in every facet of the game,” he continued. “I’ll remember that game for the rest of my life because it was a turning point we went on to win 11-straight games and went on the NCAA tournament.”
Notes: Penn State will complete its non-conference schedule with a Dec. 29 contest against Duquesne. Pittsburgh transfer John Johnson arrived on campus on Dec. 21 and immediately began practicing with the team. The 6-foot-1-sophomore guard is Chambers’ fourth Philadelphia-area acquisition and will be eligible next December at the end of the 2013 fall semester. ... Patrick Ackerman, who was previously suspended from the team for an undisclosed violation of team rules, has been reinstated to the team.