Penn State men’s basketball coach Patrick Chambers is his own toughest critic.
Looking back at last season, he realized he could have done a better job in certain situations. His team’s play in tight games fell into that category, magnified by a 5-8 record in games decided by five or fewer points.
Chambers said he relived those close games, watching them and trying to figure out what he could have done better. He came to the conclusion that it may have been a problem in how he delivered his message — Chambers admits he’s an “intense guy” — rather than an X’s and O’s issue.
He’s trying to stay calm in the tense moments this season.
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“It could be the message sometimes, your delivery sometimes and then every game’s going to be different, so you might see me go buck wild,” Chambers said. “It just depends on — I’m not going to say I’m never going to do it, I mean I had some good halftimes this weekend.”
But Chambers believes his change in approach was beneficial as Penn State found itself in three close games in the Charleston Classic last weekend. The Nittany Lions fell in double overtime 106-97 to Charlotte before edging Cornell 72-71 and Southern California 63-61. Chambers expects another tough contest when Penn State (4-1) hosts Akron at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The Zips (3-1) also played in the Charleston Classic, beating Southern California 66-46 and South Carolina 68-63 and losing to Miami (Fla.) 79-51.
The Nittany Lion players left Charleston confident after finding a way to win two tight games.
“We’re just going to know that the game’s not over ‘til it’s over,” freshman guard Shep Garner said. “And we always have a shot no matter how many points we’re down. So I think us going through that this week was very big for us because we’re like battle-tested early.”
While there were positives, Chambers said Penn State needs to get back to work in practice.
The close games, marked by lackluster play, revealed plenty for Penn State to improve early in the season.
Penn State’s rebounding struggles continued, and the Nittany Lions found themselves in foul trouble throughout the weekend. D.J. Newbill carried the team offensively for stretches, and Penn State’s big men disappeared as offensive options for the majority of the three games.
The coach wants to see the offense run through the post more than it did during the weekend. He also doesn’t want to see the team lean on Newbill as much. Newbill averaged 27.7 points per game in Charleston and made the crucial plays late in both wins.
“It’s unfair to him,” Chambers said.
But with Newbill leading the way, Penn State found a way to come away with two wins decided by a combined three points.
After last season’s close-game struggles, the Nittany Lions feel their experience was a factor.
Penn State was outplayed by Cornell but stole the win, forcing a turnover on an inbounds pass that led to Newbill’s game-winning layup at the buzzer.
It brought back memories of Penn State’s 66-65 win over Indiana in February.
The Hoosiers turned it over on back-to-back inbounds plays in the final 15 seconds before a game-winning drive by Tim Frazier.
“That situation kind of came to my mind while that game was happening,” junior forward Donovon Jack said. “We were in so many close games last year, bringing back a lot of veteran guys, we kind of had been there before, kind of knew what to do.”
Penn State trailed Cornell 71-70 with 4.8 seconds left.
Shonn Miller lofted an inbounds pass beyond halfcourt. When Garner grabbed the loose ball, his first instinct was to look to score.
But when he saw Newbill open, he got him the ball with more than two seconds left.
“The kid takes two dribbles — he’s a freshman, any kid in America would have pulled up for a 35-foot 3 — but he didn’t,” Chambers said.
Chambers said that play showed the poise that filters through the team.
The coach knows staying calm starts with him.
“For the most part during games, he’s positive,” Newbill said of Chambers. “In practice, that’s a different story.”
Chambers keeps the intensity up at practice, Newbill said the coach wants his players to move past mistakes rather than dwelling on them during games.
Chambers thinks he was part of the problem.
And he’s aiming to change that this year.
“I want to be a part of the solution in games, so every huddle even in the Cornell game, every huddle was positive,” Chambers said. “I never looked in eyes and saw guys worried or fear losing. I didn’t see it and they didn’t see it from me.”