Defense has always been the focal point for Patrick Chambers at Penn State. He even pointed out himself Wednesday night that if his team scores 80 points, it should be a winner.
That was not the case against a Bucknell squad full of hot hands.
Bucknell shot 60.9 percent from the floor, hit 10-of-15 3-pointers and scored the most points of any opponent against a Chambers-coached Penn State team in a 90-80 victory at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The Bison (1-1) erased a five-point halftime deficit by sinking 13 of their first 15 field goals in the second half. Bucknell shot a scorching 70.8 percent in the final 20 minutes and scored 54 points in that span. Ben Brackney hit four treys in the first half, Cameron Ayers was 5-for-6 from 3-point range, and point guard Steven Kaspar took over for Bucknell by netting 20 of his game-high 25 points in the second half to go with four assists and three rebounds.
Chambers noted there were some possessions in which his team lost focus defensively, but also gave Bucknell its share of credit.
“It wasn’t like we weren’t there,” Chambers said. “I think sometimes you just run into a buzz saw.”
The game took a major turn with 11:34 left when Tim Frazier was whistled for an offensive foul, his fourth of the game. Bucknell already led by two at the time, and with the all-Big Ten guard in-and-out of the game, the Bison stretched their lead to as many as 11 with eight minutes left.
Fouls were a problem all game for the Nittany Lions (1-1), as five players picked up at least three whistles, Frazier played just 27 minutes, and starters D.J. Newbill and Brandon Taylor both fouled out in the game’s final moments. Chambers said he thought the game was officiated differently than Penn State’s season-opening win against Wagner on Saturday, but added it’s his job to get his players to adjust to the officials.
“You’re going to run into these nights with how it’s being officiated, and the NCAA is getting exactly what they want,” Chambers said postgame. “They want high scoring. We have to go deep into our bench, (Bucknell’s) big players stepped up.”
As the third-year coach mentioned, he had to go to his bench more than he would have preferred. Freshmen guards Graham Woodward and Geno Thorpe both saw more than 10 minutes, while reserve big man Alan Wisniewski played seven.
“Once you get past our first line of veterans as I call them, we’re very young and inexperienced,” Chambers aid. “We got to the second level and somewhat of the third level, and we were exposed. Those guys aren’t ready to play, that’s why I limited their minutes against Wagner, but tonight my hand was forced.”
Offensively, Penn State had a sound performance, shooting 49.1 percent from the field before 4,670 fans at the BJC. The Nittany Lions did cool down after hitting 59.3 percent of their shots in the first half, and Newbill ended with a team-best 18 points. Taylor and Ross Travis had 17 each while Frazier chipped in 13.
In his second official game since returning from a ruptured left Achilles, Frazier also had three rebounds and seven assists, but the most surprising part of his stat line may be his five turnovers — all of which came in the second half.
“They went into a different style of play to stop myself and D.J.,” Frazier said. “Being the player I want to be and the player I am, I can’t have five turnovers.”
Penn State may have shot well from the field, but was outrebounded 28-25 and made just 65.2 percent (15-of-23) of its free throws.
“We got to get on the same page and continue to get better,” Chambers said. “And that is going to be the way we approach (Thursday). When we get up (Thursday), it’s a new day, we have to win that day. We have to come to practice, get better at defending and rebounding, we have to do a better job of guarding ball screens, they absolutely killed us.”
Penn State officially
signs two recruits
Class of 2014 recruits Shep Garner and Isaiah Washington both officially signed national letters of intent to play for Penn State next season on Wednesday. Rated as a three-star guard by Rivals.com, Garner stands at 6-foot-2 and plays for Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia. Washington, also a guard, hails from Williamsport and the 6-foot-3, 175-pounder was a former AAU teammate of Lions freshman forward Julian Moore.