Penn State started the season with NCAA tournament aspirations.
It appeared to be a possibility after the Nittany Lions went 12-1 in non-conference play.
But it largely disappeared — now possible only by winning the Big Ten tournament championship — as they’ve struggled to a 3-13 mark in the Big Ten.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” coach Patrick Chambers said at his weekly press conference Monday. “We thought we’d be fighting for an NCAA tournament (bid), at least an NIT (bid) and I’m not going to say that ... the door’s closed on that one.”
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Penn State (15-14) still has two regular-season games and the conference tournament to make its case for the postseason.
The Nittany Lions, who host Ohio State at 6 p.m. Wednesday, head into the final stretch looking to best last year’s record.
Penn State went into the the College Basketball Invitational with a 15-17 mark after a first-round exit from the Big Ten tournament.
“There’s still a motivating factor here where we didn’t win that 16th game until the CBI,” Chambers said. “So there’s some motivation here the last couple games and Big Ten tournament.”
Chambers said the team would accept a CBI bid if it received one.
The Nittany Lions beat Hamption in its CBI opener and dropped their quarterfinal matchup against Siena last year. Chambers saw benefits in the extra practices gained by playing in the tournament last year.
“If we could play in some postseason, that would be great,” Chambers said. “I thought the CBI taught us a lot last year. I think this year it would be more important for us to start developing our younger guys in individual skill sessions and get them ready in the spring.”
At this point, Chambers wants to see his team make a strong push to end the year.
The Nittany Lions can finish the regular season with a winning record with one more win. They’re on a five-game losing streak heading into Wednesday’s matchup against Ohio State, and they close the season Sunday at Minnesota.
The Big Ten tournament starts March 11 in Chicago.
“I thought the next step for us was NIT,” Chambers said. “I thought that would be a nice progression. In the back of my head, you always want to — as the season goes along — you always want to shoot for the (NCAA) tournament.”
Penn State ready for rematch
Ross Travis hasn’t given much thought to playing his final game at the Jordan Center on Wednesday.
He’s more focused on Penn State’s opponent than the significance of Senior Night.
“I’m so fired up to play Ohio State again just because of what happened last time there at their place,” Travis said. “They beat us pretty bad, so I’m just more excited about playing Ohio State again and getting a second chance to prove to them for my last time that we’re a better team and that we’re able to beat them.”
The Buckeyes rolled to a 75-55 victory over the Nittany Lions in Columbus on Feb. 11.
They dominated from start to finish, jumping out to a 12-0 lead and maintaining a double-digit advantage the entire second half. Ohio State’s Sam Thompson scored a game-high 22 points, and D’Angelo Russell had 17 points and seven assists.
Chambers said his team is motivated to finish the season strong for seniors D.J. Newbill, Travis, Kevin Montminy and Alan Wisniewski.
Newbill nearing milestone
Newbill needs six points to reach the 2,000-point mark for his college career.
The 6-foot-4 guard has scored 1,701 points in three years at Penn State and ranks fourth in program history. He scored 293 points as a freshman at Southern Mississippi.
Newbill is averaging 20.4 points to lead the Big Ten. Ohio State’s Russell is second in the league with 19.0 points.
Chambers helped Villanova turn the corner to become an NCAA tournament team year after year.
He then led Boston University to back-to-back America East tournament championship games and an NCAA tournament appearance.
Chambers said it’s going to take time at Penn State, where he’s competing to build a program in the Big Ten.
“There’s more under the hood here,” Chambers said. “There’s more to do here. This league is massive. It’s massive. The coaches are terrific. ... They just keep reloading and retooling.”
The Nittany Lions have the No. 36 recruiting class in the country for 2015, according to 247Sports. It’s also sixth in the Big Ten, behind Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan State, Illinois and Ohio State.
“We got some young talent,” Chambers said. “We got some athletic talent. We got some speed. We got some skill. It’s coming. It’s coming. But this is not going to be built in a couple years. It’s going to take time. Everybody needs to be patient, including me because I’m the worst.”