Penn State guard Devin Foster and his teammates returned to practice this week looking to prove themselves as if it were October.
When the Nittany Lions started practice more than a month before the season opener, they were pushing each other and competing to carve out their roles. They took the same approach when they got back in the gym after a 21-point loss to Northwestern.
It’s part of coach Patrick Chambers’ attempt to get his players to push through a disappointing run in the Big Ten with three games remaining in the regular season.
“It’s been like the first day of practice when we get to compete against one another,” Foster said. “I love competing, just trying to get teammates better so we can prove it on the court when the real game comes.”
Penn State (15-13, 3-12) will get that chance against Iowa (18-10, 9-6) on Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center. The Nittany Lions have lost four straight and dropped six of their last seven games.
Iowa is riding a three-game winning streak, boasting a 34-point win over Rutgers and a 28-point victory over Nebraska before beating Illinois 68-60 on Wednesday. 6-foot-9 forward Aaron White leads the Hawkeyes in scoring with 15.2 points per game and rebounding with 7.2 per game. Jarrod Uthoff, also a 6-foot-9 forward, is second on the team in both categories, averaging 12.0 points and 6.1 rebounds.
Chambers said he’s tried to be creative as he aims to get his team to finish the season strong.
Practices included more scrimmaging this week, and the coach mixed up the teams.
“We’re having healthy competition,” Chambers said. “There’s only one spot really secure right now. I want to see us go out, I want to see us compete and I want to see us run through the finish line here.”
Penn State suffered a 60-39 loss to Northwestern last Saturday.
With a week to prepare for Iowa, the Nittany Lions picked up the intensity at practice.
“We went after it,” Chambers said. “I gave them two days off. I would have said a month ago I would have thought about three just because it’s such a long season. I’m sure they’re tired of me and that’s what happens when you’re the coach and the main voice.
“But I met with D.J. (Newbill) and the leadership council and we all decided we’d get back to work on Tuesday and I thought that was a credit to them.”
Newbill scored a season-low three points against the Wildcats.
Chambers said Penn State needed to get Newbill more shots, but he also needed to be more aggressive against Northwestern’s zone defense.
Newbill finished 1 for 6 from the field and took just two shots in the second half.
Newbill expects his team to give a better showing Saturday.
“We never want to go out and lose the way we did to Northwestern, to any team in the country,” said Newbill, who is averaging 20.5 points to lead the Big Ten. “So any chance we get to come back and play with pride, that’s what we’re going to do.”
“We just use that as energy and just feed off of that,” Foster said. “We know we got a couple more games — just go out with the best we can do.”
Notes: Saturday’s game is Penn State’s Coaches vs. Cancer Day. Cancer survivors and cancer fighting groups will be recognized at halftime. The Penn State chapter of Coaches vs. Cancer has raised more than $2 million since being started in 1995. ... Iowa leads the series with Penn State 26-13. The Hawkeyes have won six of the last eight meetings, including an 82-70 win over the Nittany Lions last season. ... Iowa is currently tied for fifth in the Big Ten standings with Ohio State. ... The Nittany Lions host their final home game Wednesday at 6 p.m. against Ohio State.