In Pat Chambers’ first two seasons at Penn State, the area his teams struggled with the most was the objective of the sport of basketball.
If Sunday was any indication, however, the third campaign could finally be the charm.
Yes, it was an exhibition contest against a Division-II squad, but the Nittany Lions were successful with putting the ball through the net in their first live look of the new season. Penn State shot 47 percent from the field, making 44.4 percent of its 3-pointers, in a 98-61 victory against Northwood (Fla.) at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“We’re shooting the ball well, we are,” Chambers said. “We worked extremely hard in the offseason on our skill set, and I think showing. It’s coming through.”
The contest saw the return of Tim Frazier and the star point guard, who missed nearly all of last season after rupturing his left Achilles tendon last November, scored 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting and pulled down three rebounds in 28 minutes.
Frazier said he had jitters throughout the whole game — which is the team’s final full-speed tune up before it opens the regular season against Wagner on Saturday — and possibly his most telling stat was his six assists. Showing he has not lost his court vision, all of Frazier’s helpers came in the first half and were obviously a result of his teammates making shots.
The Nittany Lions shot 29.6 percent from beyond the arc last season, but were able to knock down 12 of the 27 treys they attempted against coaching legend Rollie Massamino’s Northwood team. Six different players nailed 3-pointers, as Brandon Taylor was 4 for 10 and and freshman guard Graham Woodward made 3 of 4.
Frazier came up empty on his one shot from deep, but credited the collective team shooting effort to players coming to the gym before and after practice to get more shots up.
“If we can knock down shots like we did today, we’re going to be a great team,” Frazier said. “We’re going to keep competing and as long as we continue to get stops and rebounds and the shots flow, we’ll be a great team.”
The defense and rebounding, which have become staples under Chambers, were also there in the exhibition. Despite trailing 11-2 early, Penn State held Northwood to 26 percent from 3-point range and forced 20 turnovers, which the team was able to convert into 30 points. The Nottany Lions dominated the battle on the glass, outrebounding the Seahawks 43-24 and Chambers’ squad secured 17 boards on the offensive end.
Ross Travis’ eight rebounds led four different players with at least six boards. Travis, a junior small forward, also scored a team-high 17 points and was 6 for 6 at the foul line.
“I’ve definitely been working on my all-around game this summer,” Travis said. “Today, I was just taking what they were giving to me.”
Travis was joined in the starting lineup by Frazier, Taylor, D.J. Newbill and Donovon Jack, and all five starters scored in double figures. Chambers mainly used an eight-man rotation in the first half with Woodward, freshman Payton Banks and transfer Allen Roberts coming off the bench. The Lions featured a lot of shorter lineups, even some with the 6-foot-4 Newbill playing forward.
“I thought that we played a really solid, 40-minute basketball game,” Chambers said. “That’s what we’re about. We talk about the Penn State way, we talk about Penn State basketball, and I felt like our guys did a great job of that.”
Playing a well-rounded game was not the only aspect Chambers was pleased with on Sunday. He also got to coach against a person he has admired for the majority of his life.
Massimino is a College Basketball Hall of Famer who won an NCAA Championship at Villanova in 1985. Massimino helped Jay Wright get the head coaching job with the Wildcats and Wright gave Chambers an assistant job, huge boost to his career.
Chambers was with the coach whom he called “an incredible human being” at Penn State’s football game against Illinois on Saturday and said: “People don’t know who I am, but they know who he is. And they’re stopping, taking pictures.”
Massimino also had strong words about Chambers and what he is doing at Penn State.
“He’s going to turn this program around, there is no question in my mind,” Massamino said. “He’s going to get this thing done. They’ve done a terrific job of recruiting players, and with a little bit more experience, I think they’re going to be pretty good — especially if they shoot threes like that.”
Freshman Julian Moore did not play Sunday because of a concussion. Chambers said the 6-foot-10 forward has already passed tests, and will return to the practice floor Tuesday. Newbill watched most of the second half from the bench and had ice wrapped around his left knee, but Chambers said the guard was dealing with minor cramping. Newbill played 18 minutes in the exhibition, scored 11 points and had three rebounds.