Penn State’s big men are familiar with Purdue’s A.J. Hammons.
Donovon Jack and Jordan Dickerson battled the Boilermakers’ 7-0, 261-pound center twice last season. Both were whistled for nine fouls and both fouled out of one game against Purdue.
The Nittany Lions are looking to stay out of foul trouble when they meet the Boilermakers at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Bryce Jordan Center. The challenge isn’t just about Hammons this year as Purdue has another physically imposing post threat — 7-foot-2, 297-pound freshman center Isaac Haas. The Purdue big men are each averaging 10.1 points per game while combining for 10.6 rebounds per game.
“We got to work hard in the interior without fouling,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said Friday. “And then we have to do our job on the exterior and the perimeter, trying to get deflections and at least having high hands or some type of ball pressure.”
Penn State is looking to snap a four-game losing streak to start Big Ten play. After playing three of their first four conference games on the road, the Nittany Lions (12-5, 0-4) hope to make the most of a return home Saturday against the Boilermakers (10-7, 2-2).
It is the start of a stretch of three home games in four contests — with a game at Michigan State on Wednesday before hosting Rutgers and Minnesota.
“We got to protect our home court,” Chambers said. “This is the stretch that we got to go on a little bit of a run here. Out of the gates, we knew it would be difficult, but now we got to flip this thing our way and take care of home court.”
Penn State will need to contain Hammons and Haas.
Last season, Hammons went 10 for 14 from the free-throw line to help Purdue edge the Nittany Lions 65-64. Jack fouled out in 31 minutes of action and Dickerson picked up four fouls in seven minutes. Hammons scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in Penn State’s 79-68 win in the rematch, while Dickerson fouled out in 10 minutes and Jack was whistled for four fouls in 22 minutes.
Haas has provided a presence inside, too.
He’s shooting 61 percent from the field, good for third in the Big Ten. And he’s gone to the free-throw line a team-high 86 times. The freshman and Hammons are averaging a combined 38 minutes per game.
The 6-foot-9, 210-pound Jack has fouled out of three games this season. But he’s stayed out of foul trouble and gone 7 for 7 from the field to score 19 points in the last two games. Dickerson, the 7-foot-1 center, has yet to foul out in 17 games but he’s been whistled for four fouls six times.
6-foot-10 reserve forward Julian Moore was called for three fouls in nine minutes Tuesday against Indiana.
But the issue extends beyond the big men.
“We just have to play a lot smarter,” Chambers said. “We have to move our feet a lot better. We have to be in a stance. Indiana’s really quick and our reaction was two hands on them and that’s where you get foul trouble.
“Then we’re hand-checking left and right, so we have to do a better job of knowing the scouting report, knowing tendencies and playing better angles to prevent fouling because Purdue’s going to drive the ball and they’re going to put it inside.”
Hammons and Haas are among six Purdue players averaging at least 8.5 points per game.
Penn State put together a balanced scoring effort in its loss to Indiana, but starting guards D.J. Newbill and Shep Garner were an inefficient 11 for 31 from the field. Jack and Travis combined to go 10 for 11 from the field.
Chambers is looking for his backcourt and frontcourt to produce on the same night.
“We haven’t hit on all cylinders all year long,” Chambers said. “Our guards were just OK against Indiana and our bigs were great. Then Michigan, our guards were good, our bigs weren’t so great. So we have to keep mixing it up. Guys got to continue to take open shots and play with great confidence.”
The coach is hoping his big men carry their success Tuesday into their matchup with Purdue.
“With our bigs having a good game,” Chambers said, “they should be feeling good about themselves and being confident heading into Saturday.”
Notes: Purdue leads the series with Penn State 30-12. … Ross Travis enters Saturday’s game ninth in program history with 719 rebounds in his career. He is nine away from tying Calvin Booth (1995-99) for eighth on the list. ... Kendall Stephens leads Purdue with 10.9 points per game. Stephens is third in the Big Ten with 42 3-pointers and is shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc.