Patrick Chambers has spent his whole life around the sport of basketball, but never has he seen a stretch like the one his team has gone through in the last three weeks.
Chambers’ Nittany Lions have had a streak of six straight losses and unparalleled frustration. Penn State (9-10, 0-6 Big Ten) has been competitive in all conference games it has played this season, three of them have been one-possession defeats, but before 40 minutes have ran off the clock, something inevitably goes awry.
Generally an upbeat coach no matter the outcome, Chambers has tried to maintain his message and his demeanor, knowing there is another game coming up on the schedule. The next opponent is Nebraska — which made Penn State the only winless team in the Big Ten by defeating Ohio State on Monday —and the team will tip off against the Lions at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Bryce Jordan Center and on ESPNU.
“It’s not bouncing the right way, it’s just not,” Chambers said. “It happens. I’ve never seen anything like this. But I’m going to stay positive, I know we’re doing a lot of good things. For us to be on that hump, it takes one play, one possession. I see progress, (others) might not, I do. We’re going to clean it up in the last few minutes of a game.”
The latest lead the Lions let slip away was the most perplexing of the Big Ten season. Penn State led Purdue with less than 10 seconds left, but a 3-pointer tied the game. On an inbounds play with about four seconds left, the Boilermakers’ Ronnie Johnson knocked the ball out of Tim Frazier’s hands, Purdue called a timeout, and on the ensuing possession, Ross Travis was whistled for a foul against A.J Hammons on a lob pass.
Hammons knocked down one free throw, and yet again, Penn State left an arena in disappointment. Some officials probably would have let the play go without a whistle, but Chambers did not blame officiating for the loss, saying “we should have never been in that situation.”
“It’s unfortunate, the way it ended. Trust me, nobody felt more sick to my stomach than me,” Chambers said. “But it happens, and we have to learn from it and continue to learn from it and know that we are a good basketball team and (a win is) going to happen.”
Keeping spirits up and making adjustments is what every team wants to do in the midst of a slumps. And while Penn State is not making any drastic changes, there have been some tweaks, trying to find what works.
Against Purdue, Chambers gave freshman Graham Woodward 22 minutes, including some key time down the stretch, and the guard connected on two of his five 3-point attempts for six points. On the practice court, forward Brandon Taylor and Chambers were two of the first people on the floor Tuesday, as the coach worked with the sophomore on his shot. Taylor was the Lions’ top threat from beyond the arc in nonconference play, but has seen his 3-point percentage drop to 29.2 recently.
Off the court, Tim Frazier — who recorded a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds against Purdue — said the team has gone and saw a few movies together in the last couple of weeks
“The wins aren’t coming, but we’re still having fun playing basketball,” guard D.J. Newbill said. “We like to play with each other, we love each other. So, we keep coming back, competing every day. We’re not having a down locker room. The games are hurtful, but we come back the next day and continue to work.”
It appeared tonight’s contest would be for one team’s first conference victory until Nebraska handed No. 17 Ohio State its fourth straight loss. The upset snapped a five-game losing skid for the Cornhuskers (9-8, 1-4), who are led offensively by Texas Tech transfer Terran Petteway (17.4 points per game).
Even after Nebraska’s win against Ohio State, facing another team at the bottom of the Big Ten standings, at least on paper, seems like a great opportunity for Penn State to collect its first conference victory. But great chances have been there all along for Penn State in Big Ten play, so to Chambers, this is “the next game on the schedule.”
“We have to continue on this journey that we are on and keep grinding and keep getting better,” Chambers said. “If [our first conference win] is Thursday, it’s Thursday. Nebraska is playing very, very good basketball. Very good basketball. We have to prepare for them and prepare for a battle. There are no easy games for us.”