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Nittany Lions Looking to Bounce Back at Illinois

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Looking to build on a superb first half against No. 5 Michigan State, the Nittany Lion basketball team (9-5, 0-1) will head on the road for the first time in Big Ten play on Saturday when it collides with Illinois inside Assembly Hall (2:15 p.m. - BTN).

9581156.jpegThe Nittany Lions led by as much as 12 in a 47-point first half against the fifth-ranked Spartans in the conference opener on New Year's Eve, but second half surge from Michigan State handed the Lions a 79-63 setback.

The focus is on the next game on the schedule.  Penn State travels to Champaign for just the second time since 2010 after practice on Friday in Happy Valley.

"It's all about the next play.  It's all about the mindset and trying to get better every day," said Chambers.

"We've had a good two days...I think, again, we are headed in the right direction," Chambers added.  "It's going to take all of us.  It's not the coaches vs. the players.  We are all in this together.  And we've got to continue to figure it out."

Take a look through some things to watch for in the first Big Ten road game of 2014.

Taking Half One on the Road
The Nittany Lions played some of their best basketball of the season during the first half of Tuesday's game against Michigan State.  Penn State scored 47 points on 47 percent shooting from the field, and it went 10-for-10 at the foul line.  As Coach Chambers said after Tuesday's game, the team can take a lot away from the strong 20-minute performance.  Nonetheless, a complete 40-minute effort is essential to compete for victories in the rigorous Big Ten.  Chambers knows that.  The team knows that.  And that has been the point of emphasis on the practice court leading up to Saturday's trip to Illinois.  Penn State knows what type of potential it has when execution is at a high level, but the next step is sustaining that level for a 40-minute basketball game.

"If we can get a 40-minute game, we will give ourselves a chance to win," Chambers said.

Newbill Still Streaking
D.J. Newbill is playing the best basketball of his Nittany Lion career.  The Philadelphia native benefited greatly from being forced to play out of position at point guard during the 2012-'13 season.  That, coupled with a spring devoted to improving his jump shot, has fueled the junior guard to a terrific start to the season.  Newbill has scored no fewer than 13 points in a game this season.  He has scored more than 20 points on four different occasions and 17 or more tallies in 11 of Penn State's 14 games.  Newbill enters the Illinois game averaging 18.8 points per game, which ranks second in the Big Ten, on 51 percent shooting.  The Strawberry Mansion High School product is also averaging 5.9 rebounds per game.  Chambers said on Friday that he would like to get his Big Ten-leading 36.0 minutes per game down to 35.

Prepared For the Road
For weeks, Coach Chambers has talked about the importance of playing a difficult non-conference schedule away from the Bryce Jordan Center.  Penn State has played at The Palestra, at Barclays Center against St. John's, at Pitt and at Duquesne already during the 2013-'14.  The Nittany Lions have seen a wide variety of playing styles in a wide range of playing environments, something Chambers believes will pay dividends in Big Ten play.

Scouting Illinois
The Fighting Illini enter Saturday's game with a 12-2 mark following an overtime victory over Indiana in the Big Ten opener on Tuesday.  Illinois' two losses both came on the road - at Georgia Tech (67-64) and at No. 15 Oregon (71-64).  The Illini knocked off No. 23 Missouri, 65-64, during the non-conference slate.  Illinois also notched a victory at UNLV (61-59).

Junior guard Rayvonte Rice is the top scorer for the Illini.  Rice, who leads the Big Ten, is averaging 19.0 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game.  Junior Tracy Abrams is second on the team at 13.0 points per game.  Senior forward Jon Ekey is the team's leading rebounder at 5.8 per contest.  Illinois is averaging 72.1 points per game offensively, and it ranks No. 3 in the conference in defense at 62.0 points per game.  The Illini are shooting 44.5 percent from the field on the season.

The Nittany Lions are 6-4 against Illinois since the 2007-'08 season, including two wins in Champaign.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

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