Penn State coach Patrick Chambers offered a blunt assessment of his team’s 17-point loss to No. 4 Wisconsin.
For the first time this season, Chambers said, the Nittany Lions got “punched in the mouth.” The coach said it may have been good for his team after starting the year 12-1 — the lone blemish coming in double overtime.
Penn State will try to bounce back Saturday when it takes on Big Ten newcomer Rutgers at 7:30 p.m. in Piscataway, N.J.
“It’s always about us and where we are and where our heads are and how we respond from being punched in the mouth,” Chambers said Friday. “Years past, we haven’t responded well, so I’m anxious and looking forward to seeing how we’ll respond today and tomorrow.”
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The Scarlet Knights (8-6, 0-1) are last in the Big Ten in scoring with 59.5 points per game while shooting a conference-worst 38.8 percent.
Penn State (12-2, 0-1) stuck with the Badgers for much of the first half, thanks to shooting 64 percent from the field. The Nittany Lions recorded their best shooting performance of the season at 53.7 percent — their highest clip against a Big Ten opponent since 2011.
They finished with 72 points against a stingy Badgers team allowing just 52.4 points to opponents going into Wednesday.
“We shot the ball really well,” Chambers said. “We did some good things on the offensive end. I thought our offense was pretty crisp, pretty fluent, did some good stuff. We definitely needed a second or third scorer though.”
D.J. Newbill carried the scoring load and finished with a game-high 29 points. It was his third game with at least 29 points this year. He scored 29 in a win over Akron and 35 in a double overtime loss to Charlotte.
Newbill started 6 for 6 from the field to keep the Nittany Lions competitive against Wisconsin early. His jumper with 9:44 to go in the first half gave Penn State a one-point lead.
He took just one more shot the rest of the half, a deep jumper that rolled off the rim, as Wisconsin built a seven-point lead. He then missed his first three shots of the second half, going 14 minutes without a field goal, while the Badgers pushed their advantage to 16 points.
Geno Thorpe and Shep Garner each scored 11 points, but the game had been decided by the time they got going.
Starters Brandon Taylor, Ross Travis and Jordan Dickerson combined for just eight points, while John Johnson and Donovon Jack combined for nine off the bench.
“We’re not going to be great if D.J. has to score 30 points every night,” Chambers said. “That’s just not a good recipe for us. It’s not a good formula. When D.J. scores 29 or 30, we lose. We lost to Charlotte. We lost to Wisconsin.”
Chambers wasn’t pleased with the defensive effort, either.
Wisconsin torched the Nittany Lions, going 70 percent from the field in the second half to coast to victory. Every Badger starter shot better than 50 percent and scored at least eight points.
“They just looked for mismatches and took advantage of some mismatches, so that’s concerning when guys are not taking pride in trying to get stops,” Chambers said. “I think sometimes certain guys let the offensive end dictate their effort on the defensive side, which we haven’t done all year.
“So it was a little surprising, but again, you’re in front of 17,000 fans, you’re on the road and sometimes things like that happen mentally.”
Penn State will be back on the road as it looks for its first conference against Rutgers.
“We have to continue to work on habits,” Chambers said. “That’s what I stressed yesterday about habits, of doing the little things a little bit better. Games like Wisconsin, they’re going to happen and I look forward to the matchup with them in a month or so.”
Notes: Penn State leads the all-time series with Rutgers 37-29. The Nittany Lions and Scarlet Knights both competed in the Atlantic 10 Conference from 1976-79 and 1982-91. … Rutgers lost to Saint Francis (Pa.) 73-68 on Dec. 20. … The Scarlet Knights are coming off a 51-47 loss to Northwestern in their Big Ten opener.