It’s the end of a long season for the Penn State men’s basketball team.
There’s only two weeks until postseason play for the Nittany Lions, who have lost four of their last five games, and coach Patrick Chambers has amped up the intensity level at practices this week.
The coach switched up teams at practices, which guard D.J. Newbill said consisted of short scrimmages and specific game situations to get the competitive juices flowing before Penn State’s final four regular-season games.
“Right now we’re in desperation mode coming down the last few games of the Big Ten so we want to try to build momentum leading into the Big Ten tournament,” Newbill said. “So anything we can do to try to get us going, we’re going to try to do that. If it’s making practice more intense and more competitive, then that’s what we’re doing.”
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Penn State (13-14, 4-10) takes on No. 22 Ohio State (22-6, 9-6) on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center. The Lions understand their position after dropping their last two games to Iowa and Nebraska, and they’re looking to turn it around heading into the Big Ten tournament, which begins on March 13.
“Hopefully we’ve got our second wind here,” Chambers said.
Now, the Lions are also hoping for an improved shooting performance after troubling performances from the field in each of their last four losses.
In a setback against Michigan State, the Lions shot just 36.8 percent. Against Illinois, they managed just one field goal in the final 9:44. Their best day, when they shot 40 percent against Iowa, was marred by a 3-for-16 performance from beyond the arc. And in the loss to Nebraska, Penn State was doomed after shooting 25.8 percent in the first half.
Newbill said players are getting extra shots up, but it’s all about confidence during games.
Forward Ross Travis agreed.
“Guys are getting in the gym, so I can’t complain about that at all,” Travis said. “I’d just say everybody needs to keep shooting with a clear head and stay focused and just be confident when you put that ball up.”
The rough shooting nights have contributed to the decisive runs by Penn State’s opponents.
“We hit those stretches of three, four minutes where we can’t score,” Chambers said. “And that’s where Nebraska goes on a run. We miss two layups and they hit two 3s. Bam. The first four minutes of that second half and that’s what it was. We had two really good layups, really good shots and sometimes it just goes that way.”
And the missed shots have taken a toll on the Lions’ defense. Chambers said one of the team’s goals was to be in the top six in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense. Penn State is currently fifth, holding opponents to 41.3 percent shooting.
But the Lions also rank last in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 72.6 points per game.
“You can only get so many stops in a row,” Chambers said. “That’s how talented this league is.”
The Lions will be facing an Ohio State team that allows the fewest points in the conference at 58.1 per game and holds opponents to 39.8 percent shooting, good for
second in the league.
But Penn State will also be playing with a sense of urgency when they take the floor on Thursday.
Chambers knows his team has to play with that intensity to finish on a positive note. His players are well aware of that fact heading into their matchup with the Buckeyes.
“We’re definitely a desperation team right now,” guard Tim Frazier said. “We have a two-game losing streak right now, two bad losses, tough losses. We want to come back and play strong at home next against Ohio State, a great team that’s also in the same boat as us. They want to continue to get wins and get a higher tournament seed.
“We want to continue to get better and win each game possible, so we’re definitely a desperate team too and we’ve been practicing like it these last two days.”
Notes: Penn State will honor Tim Frazier and walk-on Zach Cooper on senior night Thursday. … Penn State’s final home game is Sunday at noon against Wisconsin. … The Lions upset then-No. 24 Ohio State 71-70 in overtime on Jan. 29. … D.J. Newbill leads PSU and ranks fourth in the Big Ten in scoring with 17.4 points per game. … Ohio State’s Aaron Craft leads the conference in steals with 2.6 per game. … Sam Thompson has started the last seven games for Ohio State, helping the Buckeyes go 6-1. Thompson is coming off a 19-point game against Minnesota.