Penn State men’s basketball: Nittany Lions getting offensive

Offense was supposed to be the big question mark for Penn State entering this season, even coach Patrick Chambers said he thought his team would be finishing in the low 70s.

But in the Nittany Lions’ first four contests, they knocked down shots at a high rate and averaged 79 points per game. Penn State, which hosts Longwood at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Bryce Jordan Center, is shooting 46.5 percent from the field, a number well up from last season’s mark of 39.5 percent.

It was no secret the guard tandem of Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill would be the Lions’ primary offensive weapons, and they are with averages of 20.5 and 17.5 points per game, respectively. But Penn State (3-1) is getting help from elsewhere.

In a 79-72 win against La Salle on Tuesday, all five starters scored in double figures, including center Donovon Jack — who netted a career-best of 18 behind four 3-pointers. Jack averages 8.3 points per contest, but the team is getting a combined 23.3 points per game from forwards Ross Travis (12.3) and Brandon Taylor (11), who round out the starting lineup.

“We want to open up the floor,” Chambers said. “I knew Donovon was very much capable to make threes, and that’s what makes us so tough to defend. Now that everyone is concentrating and trying to build the wall and thinking of going lower on ball screens. The last couple of games, we’ve started to pop him and it’s really opened up some space for Ross, for Brandon, not just Tim and D.J.”

With new hand-check rules being enforced across the NCAA this year, the Lions, like most teams, are getting to the free throw line more and have hit 72.8 percent of their shots from the charity stripe. Chambers pointed to this as a reason for the higher scoring, but his squad is also connecting on more shots behind the arc.

Penn State has made 38 of its 80 3-point attempts (38.8 percent) and Taylor leads the team with eight treys in four games. Taylor is 6-foot-7 and the 6-foot-9 Jack also knocks down 3-pointers after setting screens against La Salle and Frazier — who averages 7.3 assists per game — had 11 helpers in the victory earlier in the week.

“To be able to stand there and, you know our offense is made for a lot of pick and rolls and getting guys open,” Frazier said. “For these two to be able to knock down threes, it clears up a lot of space especially for myself, and it just makes us harder to guard. It’s harder for teams to guard us because not only do they have to stop the ball, but they also have to worry about these guys popping and rolling for threes.”

The Lancers’ (2-2) trip to Happy Valley starts Penn State’s action in the Barclays Center Classic. Penn State will host Monmouth on Tuesday before traveling to Brooklyn next weekend to play in the new NBA arena. The Lions will face St. John’s next Friday and either Georgia Tech or Mississippi on Saturday as part of a four-game stretch in seven days.

Chambers stressed he wants to get more of his bench involved to not only get players some more experience, but to give players like Newbill and Frazier — who combine to average 71.3 minutes a game — some rest.

That’s the mindset, it’s got to be keep getting better, keep forging ahead,” Chambers said. “Take it one day at a time. You can’t be happy with beating Penn and La Salle, we got to keep sticking to what we’re doing.”