Going into this week, Josh Reaves and his Penn State teammates refocused on defending and rebounding.
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers constantly stresses those two parts of the game, and the Nittany Lions failed to live up to the program’s expectations in a loss to Nebraska last week, allowing 82 points and losing the battle on the boards by 11.
Reaves said Monday that the Nittany Lions were ready to “play our hearts out” during the final stretch of the regular season.
One day later, Chambers said his team played as hard as they have all year in an overtime loss to No. 14 Purdue. The coach said his players were physical against the Boilermakers, and he’s looking for a similar effort when Penn State (14-14, 6-9 Big Ten) takes on Minnesota (21-7, 9-6) at 3 p.m. Saturday in Minneapolis.
“Hopefully we bring that same mindset and toughness and physicality to Minnesota,” Chambers said on his teleconference Friday.
The Nittany Lions, led by 6-foot-9 forward Mike Watkins, outrebounded Purdue 40-38. Watkins finished with a game-high 13 rebounds against Purdue’s frontcourt duo of 6-foot-9 forward Caleb Swanigan (nine rebounds) and 7-foot-2 center Isaac Haas (seven rebounds).
During a 10-second stretch in the first half, Watkins thrice bested Swanigan — the Big Ten’s leading rebounder — on the glass.
When Lamar Stevens missed a corner jumper, Watkins grabbed the weak-side rebound over Swanigan and sent a pass to Payton Banks for a 3-point attempt. Watkins tipped Banks’ miss into the air and secured another rebound over Swanigan to set up another 3-pointer.
When Shep Garner’s attempt kicked off the rim, Watkins hauled in the rebound — again over Swanigan.
“He battled,” Chambers said after the loss. “He went toe-to-toe with a potential lottery pick (Swanigan) and a potential first-rounder some day in Haas because I think Haas is a pro — the way he can catch, he’s so big and strong. He’s got great touch and he can make free throws; what NBA team wouldn’t want him?”
Watkins pulled down 12 rebounds in the first half, helping Penn State take a four-point lead into halftime. The Nittany Lions’ defense played a factor in building the lead as Purdue shot 29 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes.
Penn State continued to battle Purdue in the second half before falling short in overtime.
Reaves said the coach wants the best from his players and does whatever he can to get it out of them. The team has quotes in the locker room like, “Anything less than your best is unacceptable.” Reaves said Chambers often looks to Banks as an example during practice.
“Because Payton’s face gets so red when he gets tired and he just gives it his all, and he’s giving everything he’s got,” Reaves said. “And he always points at Payton and says, ‘This is what we need from everyone. I don’t care if you’re in there for two minutes or 22 minutes, if you’re not giving it your all — people want to play.’ There’s no point in conserving energy.”
The Nittany Lions will now look to take that approach into Saturday.
“It’s a big game for us, especially being on the road,” Chambers said. “So the mindset’s going to be critical to everything we do, and we’ve been talking about it. Their approach the last two days was very good.”
Penn State at Minnesota
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Williams Arena, Minneapolis
Radio: WQWK 1450