Ross Travis readily admits he’s never been great at one thing during his career.
But the Penn State forward has developed a reputation for playing hard, a trait that’s helped him grab rebound after rebound. Travis boils rebounding down to wanting the ball more than his opponent.
He’s always looking to secure possession for the Nittany Lions, knowing it’s part of his role.
“Every time a shot goes up, I’m thinking miss and reading the trajectory of the ball and just going to the spot of the floor where I think it’s going to go,” Travis said.
Penn State’s first two games revealed rebounding as a primary area of concern. Morgan State and Fordham combined to grab 29 offensive rebounds (14.5 per game), above the average of 10.2 offensive boards the Nittany Lions’ opponents pulled down last season. Travis, who led the team with seven rebounds a game in 2013-14, isn’t worried about the poor start on the boards for the team. He said he knows Penn State (2-0) will clean that up as the Nittany Lions prepare to face Charlotte (1-0) in its first game in the Charleston Classic at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Penn State will face South Carolina or Cornell in the tournament Friday. The Nittany Lions will close out the tournament Sunday.
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers addressed his team’s effort on the glass after its 73-54 win over Fordham on Sunday, saying it needed to improve before the matchup against the 49ers.
After reviewing the film of both games, Chambers’ concerns were reinforced.
“The thing that jumps out to me is the rebounding, got to do a much better job on the defensive glass,” Chambers said. “And they’re just deflections, we have our hands on it, but we’re not squeezing it.”
Chambers said the guards need to contribute more on the boards.
Travis is well aware of Charlotte’s top rebounder from a year ago.
Willie Clayton, a 6-foot-8 forward, led Conference USA in offensive rebounding (3.81 per game) and ranked second in rebounding (8.9 per game). Clayton finished with five offensive rebounds and grabbed 10 overall in Charlotte’s season-opening 73-60 win over Elon.
The 49ers have four returning starters from a team that went 17-14 and beat eventual Big Ten champion Michigan 63-61 in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off championship.
Mike Thorne Jr., a 6-foot-11 center, and 6-foot-5 guards Pierria Henry and Terrence Williams also are returning starters. Florida transfer Braxton Ogbueze, a 6-foot-1 guard, rounds out the starting lineup.
Penn State forward Brandon Taylor is averaging 7.5 rebounds through two games after averaging 4.9 as a sophomore.
“I think rebounding, it’s not really working on it, it’s just really wanting the ball more than the other guy,” Taylor said. “I think just over practicing and talking to coach, he always told me I need to rebound more, so now it’s just me going out there and doing it.”
Chambers noticed a handful of positives on the defensive end from the first two games.
He said Penn State’s veteran lineups have communicated well and its 2-3 zone is further along than it was at this point last year.
Chambers describes himself as “a man-to-man guy through-and-through,” but the Nittany Lions employ the zone defense, too.
“It really depends on the opponent and the lineups they have out there,” Chambers said of playing zone. “And I’ll talk to my staff, who do a great job of scouting each opponent, just talking to them, how many shooters are in, how many shooters aren’t in, little things like that, that might give us an advantage. And sometimes foul trouble actually plays a big part of it.”
The coach said his team has a long way to go defensively to be ready for Big Ten play, and he thinks this weekend will be a better indicator of where the Nittany Lions stand.
Part of the growth needed includes improving on the glass.
“That’s definitely one of our weaknesses right now, which is a bit unusual for us,” Travis said. “I feel like we’ve rebounded well in the past years, but just right now, these first two games, we’ve struggled a little bit on the boards.”