Penn State’s Big Ten opener already looms at the end of the month.
It was on the mind of PSU coach Patrick Chambers after his team’s victory over Virginia Tech marked the Nittany Lions’ best start since the 2008-09 season. The trip to Wisconsin is now 25 days away, and the coach wants to see more during that time period from a team that he said hasn’t “even scratched the surface” of its potential.
The process continues Saturday at 6 p.m. when Penn State (7-1) faces Marshall (3-4) in Huntington, W. Va. The Nittany Lions have won five straight, but they had to battle and survive in all five wins. Penn State has won with different styles — outscoring Bucknell 88-80 and relying on defense in a 61-58 win over the Hokies — but the team has yet to put it all together.
“We need better balance on both ends,” Chambers said Friday. “Obviously I like our defense from Virginia Tech. I like the defense and the rebounding and the things we did, we need to bottle that up and bring that to the Big Ten.
“But now we need more balance on the offensive end, we need to share the ball a little bit more and know our roles a little bit better.”
Chambers has been able to go deeper down his bench for contributions early this season than in the past.
He’s been able to play small with dependable backcourt options in Shep Garner, John Johnson and Geno Thorpe along with leading scorer D.J. Newbill. Brandon Taylor has played stretches at center in the smaller lineups due to foul trouble.
And Chambers has also gone with a bigger group at times, like he did when 6-foot-6 forward Payton Banks played a season-high 12 minutes against Virginia Tech. Banks grabbed five rebounds and provided a solid defensive presence.
Chambers said Banks’ teammates can trust the redshirt freshman on the floor. The coach said he feels comfortable going to Banks and 6-foot-10 redshirt freshman forward Julian Moore in certain situations. Moore played a season-high 15 minutes and scored four points in the team’s second game against Fordham.
Banks and Moore give him 10 players to use in his rotation.
“I’m enjoying it right now,” Chambers said. “And as I prepare for Marshall, those things are going into my mind. What different lineups can I play under different circumstances?”
Chambers made a change in his starting lineup against Virginia Tech, going with Jordan Dickerson at center in place of Donovon Jack.
The coach said it was the result of a combination of factors.
Dickerson practiced well to earn the start and matched up better with Virginia Tech’s 6-foot-10 forward Joey van Zegeren. Jack had struggled with early foul trouble and played better late in games, so Chambers thought Jack could provide a spark off the bench.
Dickerson and Jack each played 16 minutes against the Hokies. Dickerson pulled down eight rebounds and Jack finished with seven boards.
“As long as we continue on the right path and we find success, I think this will be our rotation for now,” Chambers said.
Chambers stressed at the start of the week Penn State needed to improve its defense and rebounding.
The Nittany Lions allowed 80 points in their win over Bucknell, winning with offense as they were unable to slow the Bison. The team’s effort on the boards was identified as a weakness after two games and remained a concern heading into Wednesday’s game against Virginia Tech.
Penn State limited Virginia Tech to 58 points and outrebounded the Hokies by nine, key factors in a hard-fought win in which the Nittany Lions scuffled offensively.
Chambers said that performance, in which Newbill was contained for long stretches, revealed a need to get the ball moving more again.
The uneven play also meant Penn State is still searching for a complete game, still aiming to reach its potential.
“We have not played a 40-minute game yet,” Chambers said Monday. “We’re not even close to the team that we’re going to be come January. We’re not even close.”