Patrick Chambers did not want to disclose any expectations he had for his team at last month’s media day, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any in the locker room.
And after Wednesday’s loss to Bucknell in the second game of the season, Chambers said he just wants his team to be concerned about controlling what it can control.
“If we start thinking ‘I want to play in the NCAA Tournament, I want to win 20 games, we have to win every non-con,’ if you start thinking like that, well guess what? You’re going to have outcomes like you did Wednesday,” Chambers said on a call with reporters Friday morning. “So, I’m trying to get in their heads a little bit about being positive and taking it one day at a time.”
Penn State (1-1) will look to rebound against Pennsylvania at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Palestra on the team’s first road trip of the young season. It’s the first of two straight games against Big 5 teams for the Nittany Lions, but the only trip on their schedule that has Chambers returning to his home city.
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One thing Penn State will attempt to improve in the famed arena is defense. Bucknell hit an impressive 60.9 percent of its field goals and scored 90 points in a 10-point victory Wednesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center — both of which are the highest marks an opponent has posted against a Chambers-coached Penn State team.
“We have to get better on defense, we didn’t talk enough,” guard D.J. Newbill said after the loss. “They executed their offense, they’re coached by a great coach. They had open shots, they hit open shots. That was the game.”
Penn (1-1) is fresh off a win against Monmouth after starting its season with a five-point loss to city rival Temple. The Quakers have two guards — Tony Hicks and Miles Jackson-Cartwright — who average better than 18 points per game each, while their 6-fot-11 big man, Darien Nelson-Henry, has 33 points and 21 rebounds in two contests.
Penn State downed Penn 58-47 last season, but Chambers said his squad will have to do a better job of playing team defense, which was missing often against Bucknell.
“We relied too much on individual effort instead of playing together and trusting one another,” Chambers said. “We made some adjustments to help our guys out too, build that wall as a team, not make it so easy that they get downhill on us.”
Penn State was out of place defensively on a few possessions in the second half against the Bison, and part of that had to do with foul trouble. Chambers could not go with his usual lineup as Tim Frazier went to the bench with his fourth foul at the 11:34 mark.
Frazier was in-and-out of the game the rest of the way, but Bucknell was able to make its push with the point guard on the pine. Penn State totaled 24 fouls in the game, and while Frazier never picked up his fifth foul, both Newbill and sophomore forward Brandon Taylor hit the limit.
“We take pride in playing hard and tough and physical, and that was taken away from us,” Chambers said. “We couldn’t play as hard and as tough and as physical. Now, you’re playing defense not to foul, and when you’re playing not to foul, you see what happens. Guys go down the lane, you’re running away from guys, you just throw your arms back. It becomes a whole different game.”
Due to rule changes, NCAA officials are calling games tighter this season. Penn State did not benefit Wednesday, but the team has gone to the foul line 66 times this season, including 43 trips to the charity stripe in a season-opening win against Wagner. The Nittany Lions’ free throw shooting hasn’t been the greatest (68.2 percent), but Chambers is pleased about his team’s 42.7 percent field goal percentage.
“The only thing I am down on is the free throw shooting,” Chambers said. “I’m shocked, because we were shooting really good free throws until that Wagner game, then we dipped a little bit. We have to get that back going. But I want to see us extra passive and see made jump shots. I’ve said for two years, you have to earn the right to make shots, and they’ve definitely earned it.”