Penn State’s Brandon Taylor chooses to remember the disappointment.
The Nittany Lions lost 39 games in his first two seasons. They suffered a 14-game losing streak his freshman year and opened Big Ten play on a six-game slide his sophomore year. They finished both campaigns under .500.
With Penn State off to its best start in 14 years, Taylor still thinks about the losses.
“I still try to remember everything I’ve been through since I’ve gotten here,” Taylor said. “We’ve had some losing seasons and I definitely ... try to remember that and try not to get too excited about the start that we’ve had.”
Instead, Taylor tries to use those memories as fuel to get better and a reminder not to be satisfied. The Nittany Lions have four nonconference games left and a grueling Big Ten slate awaiting. It’s too early to enjoy the success, and Penn State’s record doesn’t hide its flaws.
Penn State (8-1) faces Duquesne (3-2) at 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The teams have met every season since 2010-11, with Penn State winning three of four games. The Nittany Lions beat the Dukes 68-59 last season.
Duquesne boasts four players averaging double figures in scoring. Guard Jordan Stevens comes off the bench and leads the team with 16.8 points per game. Duquesne is coming off a 76-62 loss to Pittsburgh and suffered its first loss to NJIT 84-81.
“They’re a lot better,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said of Duquesne. “I just watched some of the game versus Pitt. It was a battle. So I expect another hard-fought, down to the last four minutes type of game that hopefully we can find a way.”
Penn State has found a way to win close games so far, something the Nittany Lions struggled to do last season.
Penn State lost eight games decided by five or fewer points in 2013-14. The team is already 4-0 in those situations this season.
The tight contests have put Penn State’s weaknesses on display.
The Nittany Lions lack a consistent post presence offensively and need more production from centers Jordan Dickerson and Donovon Jack, who have combined to average 5.8 points per game. Penn State is averaging 14.1 turnovers per game. Chambers has stressed a need for improvement in rebounding and defense at times, and the team has relied on D.J. Newbill for its offense during key spurts.
They’ve also allowed teams to hang around late before making the plays to secure the win.
“I feel like we have a lot of room for growth,” Chambers said. “I think we have leadership and great veterans and that’s why you’re winning games. We’re making plays in the last four minutes to have that 8-1 record. But through the course of a 40-minute game, there’s still a lot of habits that we need to work on.”
Still, Newbill sees a difference in this team when he looks back at the past two seasons.
In his first year playing for Penn State in 2012-13, Newbill was the starting point guard after a season-ending injury to Tim Frazier and led the team in scoring with 16.3 points per game.
Taylor was a freshman who started 18 games and Ross Travis was a sophomore who started 27 games on that team.
Penn State opened the year 8-4. The Nittany Lions then lost 14 straight and finished the season 10-21.
“I think I got better players around me,” Newbill said. “Not to knock on those guys I played with back a couple years ago, but I think we got a veteran group. All those guys have been through it.”
By the time Penn State won its eighth game last year, it had lost three games. The Nittany Lions then lost seven of their next eight games and would finish 16-18 on the year.
That’s what Taylor remembers.
It puts Penn State’s good start in perspective. But Newbill said the start is a product of the veterans who played through all the losing.
The experience has paid off as the Nittany Lions have shown the ability to close out games.
“It took some time, took some years, but I think we’re all on the same page now,” Newbill said. “We got a great group of guys here.”