Just two days of rest separate back-to-back games in Brooklyn from Penn State’s toughest road test of the nonconference season.
That does not bother coach Patrick Chambers.
The Nittany Lions (6-2) travel to face in-state foe Pittsburgh at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Peterson Events Center as a part of the annual Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Penn State competed in the Barclays Center Classic last weekend, beating St. John’s on Friday before falling to Mississippi in the title game on Saturday.
Chambers said he was disappointed his squad did not leave Brooklyn as victors, but the coach noted playing in an environment similar to what Penn State will see Tuesday night is only beneficial.
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“It’s great for us. I know you guys think I’m crazy, and maybe I am, but I want to play in Peterson,” Chambers said Monday. “I was at Villanova for five years. That is one of the hardest places to play. No matter what the outcome is, that is getting us ready for what we’re going to see at Michigan State, at Purdue, at Indiana, at all those places on the road.”
The Nittany Lions started out their Big Apple experience with an overtime victory against St. John’s, and were on the floor again less than 24 hours later against Ole Miss. The Rebels jumped out a 13-point lead behind eight first-half 3-pointers, but Penn State countered and led by as many as seven in the second half prior to faltering down the stretch.
To Chambers’ displeasure, Penn State was outrebounded in both games, and also allowed 11 made 3-pointers in each of the contests — a mark the third-year coach called “unacceptable.”
“I felt like it was our tournament. I expected to win it and we came up short,” Chambers said. “But we got better, we fought through some adversity, some challenges, human-nature-type stuff — fatigue, being tired, things like that. A lot of positives to take away from New York, but we need to continue to get better and that’s got to be our mindset.”
Pittsburgh is the final opponent on Penn State’s nonconference slate from a “Power 6” conference, and it’s the first time the schools have met on the hardwood since 2005. The teams have met 144 times, but none in Happy Valley since December 2004. Though this season’s matchup came about through the conference challenge, Chambers said he and Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon have talked about continuing the series in future years, citing “it’s great” for the state, fans and alumni bases.
In their first campaign as an ACC program, the Panthers enter tonight’s game 7-0 with wins against Texas Tech and Stanford. Pittsburgh has four players averaging double figures in scoring with senior small forward Lamar Paterson leading the way with 17.1 points per game. The Panthers also do a good job crashing the boards, averaging 39.9 rebounds per game to Penn State’s 35.9.
In addition to film and a scouting report, Penn State has the benefit of getting analysis from John Johnson, who spent the 2011-12 season at Pittsburgh before transferring to Penn State. Johnson is not eligible to suit up for the Lions until Dec. 22, but he can still offer his insight.
“I’ve talked to him, of course I did. I’d be foolish not to,” Chambers said. “We chatted, we chatted for a while, went over players, tendencies, things like that. He was great, he wants to be a big part.”
After this stretch of three games in five days, Penn State will be able to get a little rest, with the final four contests of its non-Big Ten schedule slated over a 16-day span. Despite having three players (Tim Frazier, D.J. Newbill and Brandon Taylor) logging 34 minutes or more in both of last weekend’s games, Chambers is not worried about his unit being tired.
“I think we’re the most well-conditioned team in the country,” Chambers said. “We work so hard. I told them that. We’re here since May, there’s a reason we do sand pits, there’s a reason why we condition the way we condition — so you’re prepared for things like this. It’s not the body, it’s the mind.”