Right after his diving attempt to thwart a fast break came up empty, Tim Frazier lifted his head off the hardwood and all he could do was watch as Pittsburgh stretched its lead to five points with an easy layup in crunch time.
Frazier, the senior guard who has become the face of a Penn State basketball program he and Patrick Chambers are desperately trying to make recognizable, gave similar effort all night against in the raucous gymnasium of an in-state rival and perennial contender. But he and the Nittany Lions boarded the bus back to State College without what they were seeking: a statement victory.
Pittsburgh downed Penn State 78-69 Tuesday night at the Petersen Events Center in a game which saw the lead teeter-totter for the first 37 minute, before the home side pulled away in the final three.
Although the Nittany Lions (6-3) could not help establish themselves with a win, Chambers had a strong message after the game.
“I hope people start taking us seriously,” said Chambers, who is in his third campaign at Penn State. “Because I feel like — I know these guys, we’re tired of everybody talking about us like we’re not a good team and aren’t you proud to be on the same floor? What does that mean? What does that even mean? We’re a good team, we’re a good basketball team, get used to it.”
Chambers has won a combined 22 games in his first two season, and when asked why he thinks his program doesn’t get respect, he responded: “I’m sure because of history. Our attitude has changed, our mindset has changed. We’re competing at a high level. We’re not seeing great results the last two games, but we’re getting there.”
Competing was what Penn State did against an undefeated Panthers side in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
However, Pittsburgh closed the game on a 15-7 run sparked by James Paterson’s steal and layup, which Frazier — with a game-high 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting — could not prevent after a broken possession from the Lions.
Though Penn State was able to string together a 7-0 spurt of its own to take a one-point lead with five minutes remaining, Pittsburgh repeatedly got to the rim and the foul line in the second half, especially down the stretch.
The Panthers (8-0) shot 58.6 percent in the final 20 minutes after making just seven field goals in the first half. They made their last four field goal attempts, scored seven points at the line in the final minute and change and made what Frazier referred to as “game-winning plays.”
“You got to attack and get layups and we thought that against them especially,” Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said after the game. “They want you to take jump shots. They want you to take contested jump shots and there’s a reason why they want you to do that.”
Fouls were an issue all game for the Lions, who were whistled 29 times. Pittsburgh went to the charity stripe 35 times as a result, compared to Penn State’s 23 free throw attempts.
Chambers was visibly upset at a bevy of calls against his team, but said the Nittany Lions “needed to adjust to the way it was being called.
“Again, we’re fouling at the end, so it might look inflated,” Chambers said. “We didn’t really do anything differently (on defense), we stayed in our gaps, they made some drives, some tough calls went against us. That’s what happens on the road.”
D.J. Newbill chipped in 18 points — 14 in the second half — and also added five rebounds. No other Penn State player finished in double figures, however, and the three other starters (Donovon Jack, Brandon Taylor and Ross Travis) combined for only 14 points on 5-of-18 shooting.
Center Talib Zanna and forward Lamar Patterson evenly split 32 points to lead the Panthers, and the team won the rebounding battle 38-29.
A capacity crowd of 12,510 watched the two sides meet for the first time since 2005, and it’s a game Chambers said he has interest in putting on future schedules. The Nittany Lions will have to wait a while for another for another chance to prove themselves, though, as they won’t face another team from a “Power 6” conference until it opens Big Ten play at the end of the month.
But it’s still December, and other opportunities will be there.
“One of my goals at the beginning of the year was to leave a legacy here,” Frazier said. “And with the guys I have back in the locker room, those 14 guys that battle with me throughout the summer, the spring and the fall, it’s going to pay off. We are a great team, we are a good team. It’s going to pay off. We’re going to continue to get better.”