With the game already decided, Penn State coach Patrick Chambers stayed upbeat.
Chambers talked with point guard Tony Carr, telling him this is what an “elite” team looks like as Purdue coasted to a win over the Nittany Lions last weekend. The coach kept teaching and talked about Penn State’s room for growth during the 25-point loss.
“There’s no better time to do it than when they’re in the moment like that,” Chambers said Monday. “I thought I utilized that second half to the best of my ability.”
After Tuesday’s game at Wisconsin got away from the Nittany Lions in the second half, Chambers took the same approach, using the final 10 minutes to work with his team to get better.
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Coming off back-to-back road losses to two of the Big Ten’s best teams, Penn State (11-10, 3-5) will look to get back on track against Illinois (13-8, 3-5) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Bryce Jordan Center. The Nittany Lions lost to then-No. 21 Purdue 77-52 last Saturday before falling 82-55 to No. 15 Wisconsin. They’re on a three-game losing streak going into the matchup with the Fighting Illini.
“I thought we battled (Wisconsin) for 20 minutes, but that’s where we are right now,” Chambers said on his teleconference Friday. “Playing the elite teams in this league, that’s where we are, and part of my job is to get us there to be able to play 40 minutes.”
Penn State will face another team that has gone through ups and downs this year.
The Nittany Lions and Fighting Illini are among six teams with a 3-5 record in league play, and Chambers expects an evenly-matched game.
“It’s going to be a brawl,” Chambers said. “It’s going to be like Minnesota. Two teams that are not going to give up many inches. We’re both struggling to score in the half court right now, but we’re excelling in transition.”
Penn State’s Lamar Stevens has thrived in half-court situations and in transition this season.
But the freshman has been struggling on the offensive end in the last four games, shooting 8 for 35 from the field and averaging 5.8 points per game — well below his season average of 11.4.
“I know we need him to score a little bit more because that’s when we’re really good when he’s scoring,” Chambers said. “But he’s such a mature kid. He knows what’s going on, he knows he’s going through a little bit of a downswing here, but he’s in the gym, he’s working on it and he’s not going to let that affect him.”
With the team going through a slump of its own, Chambers is still focused on the group’s growth going into Saturday.
The coach is looking for his team to be sharper defensively and to cut down on its turnovers.
“We got a lot of games left, a lot of practices left,” Chambers said. “We got to continue this process of getting better.”
Notes: Illinois has wins over Ohio State (3-5 Big Ten), Michigan (4-4) and Iowa (3-5) to go with blowout losses to Maryland (6-1), Indiana (4-4) and Purdue (6-2). ... Malcolm Hill leads Illinois with 17.4 points per game. In Penn State’s 86-79 win over Illinois in double overtime last season, Hill finished with 39 points and 13 rebounds.
Illinois at Penn State
When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bryce Jordan Center
Radio: WQWK 1450