In the first six-plus minutes against Maryland, Penn State played four different lineups.
The Nittany Lions had guards Shep Garner, Devin Foster and Josh Reaves on the floor together for a stretch. They played with big frontcourt combinations of forwards Donovon Jack and Julian Moore, and Jack and center Jordan Dickerson.
Foul trouble dictated some substitutions in the first half, but the Nittany Lions continued to show the No. 4 Terrapins different looks. Penn State played 10 different lineups before halftime and used only two combinations of five players twice in the first 20 minutes. Both of those lineups spent just seconds on the floor together when the lineup reformed for the second time.
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers can play different defenses and call for certain offensive sets depending on his lineup. And with plenty of options, Chambers can try to find the right formula to match up with opponents throughout conference play.
The Nittany Lions (9-5, 0-1) continue Big Ten play at Michigan (11-3, 1-0) at noon Saturday.
“We got a good eight, nine (player) rotation I feel comfortable with,” Chambers said earlier this week. “And whether it’s big, I’ve played small, I’ve played gigantic with Brandon Taylor at the 3, I think that can only help us as we progress through this grueling Big Ten schedule.”
Penn State challenged Maryland in its conference opener, taking a 31-23 lead into halftime and building a 13-point lead with less than seven minutes left in the game before falling 70-64.
The Nittany Lions controlled the first half with contributions from their bench.
The Penn State starting lineup of Garner, Reaves, Payton Banks, Taylor and Dickerson took the floor together again with 13:40 left in the first half. Thirteen seconds later, Reaves was whistled for his second foul and went to the bench. More than a minute later, Dickerson joined him on the bench with two fouls.
Freshman forward Davis Zemgulis checked in for Reaves. Moore replaced Dickerson.
That lineup went on a 9-0 run. Zemgulis played nine minutes in the first half, scoring two points and grabbing two rebounds. He played nine more minutes in the second half and finished with eight points on 3 for 5 shooting and three rebounds.
It came one game after Zemgulis scored a season-high 11 points in a win over Kent State. Zemgulis has also logged double-digit minutes in three straight games.
“He’s just going out there and playing,” Chambers said. “Tough, hard-nosed kid who loves to play and he’s just getting a better understanding of our defense. He understands our offense a little bit better now because I had to play him multiple positions.”
Chambers said Zemgulis’ teammates trust him on the court.
The coach has also shown trust in reserves Moore, Jack and Foster.
Moore has started five games and is averaging 15.8 minutes per game. Jack has started three games and is averaging 13.6 minutes, and Foster has played 18.1 minutes per game.
They’re all factors in the rotation.
“There’s different lineups that I can play that I can feel comfortable with, that our guys feel comfortable with and they’re gaining trust in one another,” Chambers said.
Foster and Jack played key minutes against Maryland.
Foster played 10 minutes in the first half to help the Nittany Lions take a lead into the break. Jack, who finished with eight points, scored five straight points to push Penn State ahead by 13 with less than seven minutes.
But the Nittany Lions couldn’t finish the win.
They’ll now face a Michigan team coming off a 78-68 win over Illinois in its Big Ten opener.
Notes: Caris LeVert leads the Wolverines in scoring with 17.6 points per game. … Michigan is among the top 3-point shooting teams in the nation, averaging 10.6 per game. 6-foot-8 forward Duncan Robinson is shooting 58.3 percent (49 for 84) from 3-point range, good for second in the nation through Thursday’s games. … Michigan’s Mark Donnal, a 6-foot-9 forward, scored a career-high 26 points in the win over Illinois.
Penn State (9-5, 0-1) at Michigan (11-3, 1-0)
Arena: Crisler Arena
Radio: WQWK 1450
Derrick Walton Jr.