With two road games against ranked opponents looming, Tony Carr said Penn State can play with any team in the country.
The Nittany Lions had just lost at the buzzer to Indiana on Wednesday night, but they remained confident. Penn State’s freshman point guard said his team would need to stick together and show the “same fight” on the road after erasing a 14-point second half deficit to nearly force overtime against the Hoosiers.
Shep Garner echoed Carr’s sentiments after the loss.
“We know we can go into any arena and any gym and give up a good fight,” Garner said. “I think that helps us out a lot. We know no matter how much we’re down or up, we got to finish.”
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Penn State (11-8, 3-3 Big Ten) will face No. 21 Purdue (15-4, 4-2) at noon Saturday at Mackey Arena. The Boilermakers ranked second in the conference in scoring with 83.1 points per game and lead the league in 3-point shooting percentage at 40.6 percent. Purdue is one of three ranked Big Ten teams, along with No. 17 Wisconsin and No. 25 Maryland.
The Nittany Lions take on the Badgers in Madison, Wis., on Tuesday night.
Penn State has played with confidence during Big Ten play and been competitive in nearly every conference game. The Nittany Lions lost to both Michigan and Indiana by three points.
“We’re what, six points away from being 5-1 (in the league)?” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said on his teleconference Friday. “I mean that bodes well if we can just stay the course. This is an absolute process. We got younger guys out there that have to continue to get better.
“It’s Jan. 20, I can’t say they’re sophomores yet. Maybe in February I can say that.”
Chambers is focused on his team’s defense going into the matchup with Purdue.
The coach said the Nittany Lions played defense in spurts against Indiana, but he wasn’t happy with the effort at times, pointing to the final six minutes of the first half. With Penn State in foul trouble, Indiana took advantage, scoring 20 points on 8 for 14 (57.1 percent) shooting to turn a one-point deficit into a seven-point lead.
Penn State is facing another high-scoring opponent Saturday.
Caleb Swanigan, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward, makes up Purdue’s formidable frontcourt with 7-foot-2, 290-pound center Isaac Haas. Swanigan is averaging a team-high 18.4 points and 12.5 rebounds, and Haas is averaging 13.9 points and 5.5 rebounds.
The big men are surrounded by four players shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc, led by Dakota Mathias (47.1 percent). Swanigan is also a threat from long range, shooting 17 for 36 (47.2 percent) this season.
Chambers said his team won’t change its defensive approach to try to contain Purdue.
“I’m not going to put in a magical defense to stop Swanigan or Haas, or they’re making nine-and-change 3s per game so we just got to stick to our habits,” Chambers said.
Some of Penn State’s defensive issues stemmed from forward Mike Watkins’ foul trouble.
Watkins, the team’s rim protector, was limited to 13 minutes due to foul trouble Wednesday night, finishing with four points and zero rebounds.
Chambers said Watkins will need to respond Saturday.
The rest of the Nittany Lions are looking to do the same after the tough loss.
“They’re competitive kids,” Chambers said. “They want to get back out there and compete again.”
Penn State at Purdue
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Mackey Arena
Radio: WQWK 1450