Donovon Jack received the entry pass a few feet off the left block.
The Penn State forward gave a quick pump fake before taking a dribble with Akron’s Isaiah Johnson on his back. Johnson owned an 80-pound advantage on Jack and stood firmly on the block. Jack spun to his left, but he had no play in the post against the burly center and kicked it out to D.J. Newbill well beyond the 3-point line with the shot clock winding down.
One day earlier, Jack said fixing Penn State’s problems inside came down to commanding the post better.
“A few of us, we get pushed out off the block,” Jack said.
Penn State (5-1) is looking for more production from Jack and 7-foot-1 center Jordan Dickerson heading into its matchup against Bucknell (2-4) in Lewisburg at 4 p.m. Friday.
The Nittany Lions have leaned heavily on its backcourt, led by leading scorer D.J. Newbill (24.5 ppg), without a reliable post presence. Jack is averaging 3.2 points per game in 16.8 minutes, while Dickerson is averaging 2.5 points in 12.2 minutes.
After Penn State’s 78-72 win over Akron on Tuesday, Chambers highlighted Dickerson’s improved effort in the second half before discussing the importance of his big men.
“We need him (Dickerson) and Donovon to be an elite team,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said after his team’s 78-72 win over Akron. “We really do. We need those guys to step up for us and play the way they’ve played in the second half and they know it, they know it. But just go have fun doing it. I don’t want to put too much pressure on them.”
Penn State rarely looked to the post as Jack finished with just one field goal attempt — a dunk in the second half. Jack’s other two points came after Jack was fouled in the bonus when grabbing a defensive rebound.
Dickerson was active defensively, blocking four shots and grabbing six rebounds, but he went 1 for 4 from the field for two points. He caught a pass from Brandon Taylor deep in the paint and finished with his left hand for his only two points at the start of the second half.
It resulted in a modest combined line offensively for Dickerson and Jack — 2 for 5 from the field and six points in 28 minutes.
The big men struggled to establish themselves down low during Penn State’s three games in the Charleston Classic, too.
“That’s just how the game’s been going,” Newbill said Monday. “Our guards have been giving us a lot.”
Four of Penn State’s top five scorers are guards. Taylor, a 6-foot-6 forward, is the team’s third-leading scorer and does a share of his damage from the perimeter.
Still, the Nittany Lions look to Taylor in the post at times and played him at center in the second half of their 106-97 loss to Charlotte in double overtime. Chambers went to a small lineup with Penn State down 17 and said Taylor played well at center.
“But that’s not what’s going to make us the most successful team that we can be in the Big Ten and in the long haul,” Chambers said Monday. “We need Jordan and we need Donovon.”
Chambers said he thought Jack found his confidence in the second half against Southern California.
He finished with eight points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes.
Jack showed glimpses in the first half against the Trojans. He finished a two-handed slam and connected off the glass after a post move on the block.
He then grabbed seven rebounds, had a key tip-in down the stretch and followed it with a block on the ensuing possession to help Penn State to the 63-61 win.
But Jack and Dickerson have disappeared offensively more often than not.
Against Cornell, a team lacking any imposing big men, Jack and Dickerson combined for one point — a free throw by Dickerson — in 30 minutes.
Chambers said the duo is trying to play perfect under the pressure of contributing for the team.
“I think they’re being talked about so much that you go out there and they’re trying to play perfect,” Chambers said. “And I never asked them to play perfect. Just play hard and leave the results out there.”