Penn State Basketball

Penn State men’s basketball concerned with defense, rebounding early in season

Throughout the nonconference schedule, Patrick Chambers focuses on the progress his team needs to make to be ready for Big Ten play.

The coach uses the Penn State men’s basketball team’s film sessions to measure that progress.

When he starts to say less about something, he said, his team is starting to improve.

Then, he looks at statistics.

After three games, the coach likes his team’s numbers offensively — five players are averaging double figures scoring; the Nittany Lions have more assists than turnovers; they’re shooting 82 percent from the free-throw line and they’re averaging eight 3-pointers a game.

“Good stuff,” Chambers said at his press conference Thursday. “But then you go to the other side and you’re like, ‘Wow.’ Little bit scary.”

Penn State (2-1) is allowing its opponents to score 79.0 points per game while shooting 42.9 percent from the field. The Nittany Lions have also been outrebounded in every game.

Chambers points to his team’s youth — the Nittany Lions have three first-year players in the starting lineup — for its issues on the defensive end.

“Being in a stance, talking the whole time, rebounding the whole time, we’re asking them to do things that they haven’t done on a consistent basis yet,” Chambers said.

True freshmen Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens and redshirt freshman Mike Watkins have already learned how hard they have to play at this level.

After three games, they know they can’t rely on their size and athleticism to grab rebounds like they did in high school.

Penn State has been outrebounded 124-96 this season.

“It’s funny, I’ve done more rebounding drills this year than I’ve done the past five,” Chambers said. “And we just got to get the younger guys to understand because they’re incredible athletes. They don’t think they need to do it, but now after three games, they see.”

They also saw where their youth and inexperience showed on the defensive end against Grand Canyon.

Chambers saw players standing up as fatigue set in with three players out due to injury.

The team’s games in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament this weekend will serve as another opportunity to measure their early-season progress with the Big Ten in mind.

“For us to get better we got to try to win more possessions than the other team and try to play that one possession at a time,” Chambers said. “Just get a stop here, execute down there, alright here we go, get another stop here. ... Sometimes we get so focused on outcomes. We just got to focus on getting better right here, right now.”

Penn State will face No. 1 Duke in the tournament at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. The Nittany Lions will then take on either No. 21 Rhode Island or No. 24 Cincinnati on Sunday.

Duke is coming off a 77-75 loss to No. 7 Kansas on Tuesday.

Ryne Gery: 814-231-4679, @rgery