STATE COLLEGE — The next challenge for Penn State after its drubbing to No. 5 Indiana isn’t just the Northwestern Wildcats, it’s also forgetting about the Hoosiers.
“It’s about us,” head coach Patrick Chambers said at his weekly news conference after the Hoosiers shellacked the Nittany Lions 74-51. “That’s what I keep telling them.”
As his second Big Ten campaign continues with his team 0-2 and staring at a difficult week with the Wildcats today and a Sunday matinee at Purdue, Chambers wants his team to focus on what they can control — themselves.
“Northwestern runs pretty offense, it looks great with all the back cuts and all the threes,” Chambers said. “(Their) 1-3-1 defense; I give them all the credit in the world. That is amazing stuff.”
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“But, it’s about us,” he continued. “It’s about us taking the next step. It’s about us handling adversity. Hey, that’s a good Indiana team. They made us play poorly and we didn’t play well. So now we have to get back.”
While they’re trying to forget about the Hoosiers, Chambers also wants his team to have short memories as they defend the Wildcats’ version of the Princeton offense.
Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody replaced legendary Tigers’ coach Pete Carril prior to the 1996-97 season after spending 14 years learning the system as an assistant.
Chambers’ brother, Paul, played basketball at Pennsylvania, an Ivy League opponent of the Tigers, so Chambers has witnessed that style’s ability to make defenses look foolish.
“What happens in a game like this,” Chambers said, “I’ve watched Princeton my whole life … the problem is if you make a mistake or if you’re distracted for that possession — they gotcha, they gotcha. If you fall asleep for one second — they gotcha.”
“But they’re going to get one or two and that’s okay,” he continued. “We can’t let it bother us though. We can’t continue to compound problems. Just because you made a mistake it doesn’t matter. Get back on the other end and keep defending ... I always say play hard, not perfect. Play hard, not perfect.”
Chambers admitted the Nittany Lions (8-6, 0-2 Big Ten) definitely weren’t perfect against the Hoosiers. D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall — the main offensive contributors for much of the season — combined for nine turnovers.
The team also broke a string of seven consecutive games of more than 40 percent shooting with a 31 percent night against Indiana. They have also faced glaring deficits from the foul line in both Big Ten contests.
Penn State attempted just one free throw in its road loss to Wisconsin and just 11 against the Hoosiers. The disparity in attempts was 60-12 and 35-8 in points during the span, difficult areas to overcome for a team that struggles to score.
“Its a problem,” Chambers said. “In the non-conference we were getting there 20 plus times. It’s a problem.”
“We have to go up strong and finish,” he continued. “We missed a ton of layups. We have to get the rebound, be strong and go up somebody’s chest and finish and not worry about the contact — that gets you to the foul line.”
As for Newbill and Marshall, Chambers credited the Indiana defense and his backcourts’ overzealous desire to play well with the miscues.
Marshall scored 11 points, his ninth time in double digits in 10 games. Newbill shot just 3-of-15 from the field.
“He just has to be patient,” Chambers said of Newbill. “You always want to play well at home … but you also have No. 5 coming in and now you really want to play well. I think he just put a lot of pressure on himself … so now he just has to settle down and take the shots that are there.”
Northwestern (9-6, 0-2 Big Ten) plays a 1-3-1 defense that isn’t likely to pressure the Nittany Lions as tenaciously as Indiana.
Offensively, Reggie Hearn’s 14.2 points per game leads the team. The 6-foot-4-senior guard returned from a sprained ankle to score 11 points against No. 9 Minnesota on Sunday. The Wildcats lost 69-51.
The season-ending injury bug has also struck the Wildcats. Senior guard Drew Crawford, who played in 10 games this season, will miss the remainder because of an injured shoulder.
With a noon game at Purdue (7-6, 1-2 Big Ten) on Sunday, Penn State could use a home win against Northwestern to energize the team and the fan base. The Nittany Lions have not won a road game under Chambers.