Penn State guard D.J. Newbill said he and his teammates have been trying to play perfect.
The Nittany Lions wanted to add to their 12-1 nonconference start with an upset of No. 4 Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener. But they put too much pressure on themselves going into that game and lost by 17.
The pressure was there as they squandered a chance to get back on track with their worst game of the season in a loss to Rutgers. And their slide continued with a loss to Michigan last Tuesday.
When the Nittany Lions take on Indiana at 7 p.m. Tuesday on the road, Newbill said they can’t try to play perfect again.
“You got to go out there and play fearless with a clear mind,” Newbill said.
That’s the mindset Penn State needs to snap its three-game losing streak to start Big Ten play. The Hoosiers (12-4, 2-1), who are coming off a 69-66 win over No. 22 Ohio State, rank first in the Big Ten in scoring with 82 points per game and lead the conference in 3-pointers with 8.6 per game.
Penn State (12-4, 0-3) is aiming to regain its confidence.
“There’s a whole mental aspect of this game,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said, “which I think it could be because I believe we have the talent, I believe we’re running really good offense and we know we have the defense and rebounding. But now, we got to take it on another level mentally to be able to compete on a nightly basis.”
That starts with effort.
Chambers said he didn’t think his team was playing as hard during its three-game slide. The coach saw a team more focused on making individual plays on the offensive end, and he saw a team that didn’t live up to his standards defensively.
“Our defense needs to dictate our offense,” Chambers said. “We got to play much, much, much harder.”
The Nittany Lions were beat to loose balls that became offensive rebounds and extra possessions against Rutgers and Michigan. They’re plays that Chambers expects his team to make — plays Penn State needs to make to win in the Big Ten.
Indiana goes into Tuesday’s matchup ranked second in the league in offensive rebounding with 12.6 per game.
The Hoosiers also like to push the ball, led by junior guard Yogi Ferrell, who is averaging 15.9 points and 4.7 assists. Freshman guard James Blackmon Jr. paces the Hoosiers with 16.7 points, while sophomore forward Troy Williams averages 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds.
“We got to defend, we got to rebound and we got to do the little things,” Chambers said. “And we got to limit their good looks from the outside and we got to play really good transition defense. That’s where they get a ton of their points.
“But then we got to make shots too.”
In their last two losses, the Nittany Lions couldn’t overcome poor shooting starts.
They shot 19.2 percent against Rutgers in the first half of a 50-46 loss. They followed that up by shooting 32.1 percent in a 73-64 loss to Michigan. Brandon Taylor, the team’s second-leading scorer, has shot 17.9 percent in Big Ten play.
Chambers said the shooting woes can be traced back to the mental aspect of the game.
Breaking out of the slump comes down to confidence.
“I just try to have a short memory,” Newbill said.
Chambers said his team needs to start making winning plays, too.
They got to the free-throw line, came up with defensive stops and secured crucial rebounds during the nonconference.
They haven’t executed enough to win in the Big Ten.
“We got to get back to what got us here,” Newbill said. “Forget the record. Forget what happened in nonconference and now just kind of start all over.”
Notes: Indiana leads the series with Penn State 34-10. The teams split their regular-season meetings last season. The Nittany Lions stunned the Hoosiers 66-65 at Assembly Hall in the second game when Tim Frazier scored the game-winning layup with 6.1 seconds left. ... Newbill leads the conference in scoring with 21.3 points per game. Nebraska’s Terran Petteway is second, averaging 18.9.