Penn State center Jordan Dickerson was on the bench to watch the Nittany Lions cruise to their first Big Ten win.
Dickerson wasn’t sitting due to foul trouble during the 79-51 win over Rutgers last Saturday — he was whistled for one foul and played just two minutes in the first half. He missed everything on a running hook shot and later allowed Rutgers’ Shaquille Doorson to snare a rebound over him, causing coach Patrick Chambers to walk down the bench and wave reserve forward Julian Moore into the game.
Moore would earn a season-high 22 minutes. Dickerson played a season-low two minutes.
Four days later, the 7-foot-1 center was a different player in a victory over Minnesota. Dickerson finished with a season-high six points, three blocks and three rebounds in 16 minutes, living up to the potential he’s flashed intermittently during the last two seasons. He’s been ineffective and failed to bring the same level of energy each game, but he’s proven to be a difference maker when he’s blocking and altering shots in the paint.
“I don’t think he wants to sit on the bench anymore,” Chambers said Friday. “So I look forward to him to playing with high energy and finishing strong this last month-and-a-half of this season.”
Penn State (14-7, 2-6 Big Ten) takes a two-game winning streak into its matchup at Illinois (13-8, 3-5) at 1 p.m. Saturday. Dickerson is averaging 14.7 minutes per game and leads Penn State with 1.3 blocks per game.
Chambers said Friday he was hopeful forward Brandon Taylor, who missed the Minnesota game with a right-knee injury, would return to face the Fighting Illini.
Illinois is hoping to get two starters back from injury, according to reports. Leading scorer Rayvonte Rice has missed the last six games with a broken hand, while guard Aaron Cosby has missed two games due to a retinal tear in his left eye. Rice is averaging 17.2 points per game and leads the Fighting Illini with 6.9 rebounds per game.
Kendrick Nunn is averaging 16.7 points and Malcolm Hill is averaging 16.3 points in the six games since Rice’s injury. Illinois’ 6-foot-11 center Nnanna Egwu is third in the Big Ten with 1.9 blocks per game.
“I love Egwu, their center,” Chambers said. “One of my favorite players in this league, just completely understands his role, great shot blocker, rebounds the ball. Kind of like the mother hen for them on defense because he’s the senior and he’s out there with, at some points, two sophomores, a freshman and a transfer, so he does a really good job for them.”
Chambers has been mystified by his own shot-blocking center from game to game.
He’s still trying to figure out how to get a consistent effort out of Dickerson.
“That’s the million dollar question,” Chambers said.
Chambers said he and the coaching staff are continuing to push him while remaining positive.
Dickerson revealed his potential during this same stretch in the schedule last season with an eye-opening five block night in Penn State’s upset win at Ohio State. But the bursts of energy and dominant defensive efforts haven’t been on display often this year.
Chambers mentioned his four block, six rebound game in Penn State’s comeback win over Akron as another example of his ability to change a game. He had six blocks and six rebounds in a win over George Washington in December.
But Dickerson did little in Big Ten play going into the game against the Golden Gophers.
“It was great to see Jordan really step up because he only played two minutes last game,” Chambers said after the win Wednesday. “And he really stepped up for his teammates and did some great things on the defensive end.”
Chambers said Dickerson benefited from getting into the flow early.
The center finished a dunk, grabbed a rebound and recorded a block in his first three minutes of action. He remained a factor throughout the game, looming in the paint on a turnover by Minnesota’s Maurice Walker in the final minute and getting out to block a 3-point attempt in the corner by Joey King in the final seconds.
Chambers said Penn State needs Dickerson to provide that dominant presence defensively.
“When he’s playing at a high level, man there’s nobody better in the league,” Chambers said.
The coach is hoping to see him reach that level more often in the Nittany Lions’ final 10 games of the regular season.
Said Chambers: “We need more of that of Jordan Dickerson.”
Notes: Illinois leads the all-time series with Penn State 27-13. The Fightin Illini are 13-5 against PSU in Champaign. ... Illinois is second in the nation in free throw percentage at 79.6 percent. Ole Miss leads the country at 79.9. In conference-only games, the Fighting Illini are shooting 83.9 percent from the line. ... In its two straight wins, Penn State held Rutgers and Minnesota to an average of 14.1 points below their season averages. ... D.J. Newbill remains the leader in scoring among power conference players, averaging 21.5 points.