Patrick Chambers wants his team to dive on the floor, take charges and be physical. But in this young season, Penn State is doing so with a higher risk of hearing a whistle.
Fouls are up across the board in the world of men’s college basketball thanks to new rules against hand-checking instituted by the NCAA in the offseason. Between Penn State and its opponents, 187 free throws have been attempted in the first three games of the season for Chambers’ squad. The third-year coach said he’s still “digesting” the rule changes, but added he would “much rather have it the way it was.”
“I think it takes some of the spirit away from lesser talent,” Chambers said. “Some of the plays that made us compete so hard -- the dives, the charges -- they’re taking those things away from us.”
Regardless of how many trips there are to the charity stripe, the Nittany Lions (2-1) will look for their second win against a “Big 5” opponent in as many games when La Salle arrives for a 7 p.m. date tonight in the Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State collected an 83-71 victory against Penn on Saturday at the Palestra.
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The Lions actually shot a season-low in free throws against the Quakers with 23, but they’re averaging 29.7 trips to the foul line each game. Granted it’s a small sample size, but that figure was just 20 per game last season. On the other hand, Penn State opponents have attempted 32.7 free throws per game, up from an average of 25.8 attempts last season.
But it’s more than just free throw attempts. Extra calls mean more players sitting with foul trouble, and it’s making in-game lineups trickier for Chambers and other coaches.
In Penn State’s 10-point loss to Bucknell last week, star point guard Tim Frazier picked up his fourth foul with just less than 12 minutes to play, which altered the game plan down the stretch. And though Penn State was able to jump all over Penn in the first half Saturday, three of the Lions’ big men (Donovon Jack, Brandon Taylor and Julian Moore) hit the foul limit all in 16 minutes or less. Chambers wondered at his weekly press conference Monday if five fouls is enough with the new rules in place.
“Maybe you go to six fouls? Now we see it, we see how it’s going and we have to make our own adjustments,” Chambers said. “And the NCAA has got to make their adjustments, too. Our better players are on the bench now. …We need those guys in the game and it’s just the way it is. Trust me, we’re making our adjustments, we’re doing what we’re supposed to do. But they need to look at it, and say ‘OK, we need to help out here a little bit.’ That’s what the NBA does.”
Chambers noted he thinks team will be able to get more used to the new rule as the season goes on and added he does not think Big Ten games will be called as tightly. But one thing has been a trend in Penn State’s last two games: The team with a lead later in the second half has attacked the basket and went to the line.
“As a coach, you’re like ‘All right, just drive the ball and make it a free throw shooting contest,’ “ Chambers said. “Is that fun to watch?”
Fans likely don’t think so, but it’s been the same deal for La Salle, which has began its campaign 2-1 after making a Sweet 16 run last season. The Explores have been to the foul line 101 times in three contest with their top three scorers -- Tyreek Duren, Jerrell Wright and Tyrone Garland of “Southwest Philly Floater” fame -- all averaging more than seven free throw attempts per game.
Chambers said it will be “no secret” that he’ll attack the hoop with Frazier and others late if Penn State has the ball, the same way he expects La Salle coach Dr. John Giannini to do the same with Garland and company. But as Chambers pointed out, it really comes down to how a specific officiating crew is calling a game, and how teams are able to adjust to it.
“We’ve had guys in foul trouble, including myself, so it’s definitely a little more difficult trying to get into the flow of the game when the game is stopped,” said Taylor, a sophomore forward. “We can’t be as physical as we’d like, but it’s something we’ll get through.”
Notes: Taylor Dunn, the son of former Penn State coach Jerry Dunn, is a senior guard for La Salle. Dunn grew up in State College, while his father led the Lions from 1995-2003, a tenure highlighted by a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2001.