By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's a road warrior mentality for Penn State men's basketball this weekend as the Nittany Lions hit the road, traveling to Minnesota for a Saturday afternoon matchup against the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis.
Coming off a performance recognized by head coach Patrick Chambers as Penn State's toughest yet, the challenge now becomes taking that same mindset out of the Bryce Jordan Center and on the road.
"We competed tonight and this was the hardest that we played all year," Chambers said postgame following a tough loss to No. 14 Purdue earlier this week.
Praising the toughness and physicality of his Nittany Lions, who battled back from behind by as many as 10 to force overtime, the same level of play will be nothing short of crucial come Saturday.
"We have to have a road attitude, road warriors, we have to have a great mindset, be ready to compete and know that it's not all about making shots," Chambers said.
Two Nittany Lions who didn't exactly struggle to make their shots Tuesday night though, are freshmen Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens, who have both stepped up amidst the final stretch of the regular season. Across the last six games, Carr and Stevens are each averaging 18.2 points per game with 5.5 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game.
Carr led the way with 21 points against the Boilermakers, dishing out seven assists to go along with five rebounds. With Chambers already passing on a leadership role on Carr, he noted that Stevens is a work in progress, with a future leadership role certainly a possibility.
Stevens finished just behind Carr with 18 points against Purdue, nearly hitting the 20-point mark for what would have been a fifth game scoring 20 or more. Rather, Stevens has registered 20-point outings in three of the last six games, including back-to-back performances against then-No. 21/22 Maryland and Illinois to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.
Among the stretch, he has come through in the clutch for the Nittany Lions, with a gritty toughness, working inside to finish, often getting to free throw line too. Both Stevens and Carr are also atop the team standings from the charity stripe, shooting 78 percent from the free throw line on the year.
"He has really stepped up in a lot of different ways," Chambers said, reflecting on Stevens' recent impact. "He's a little bit more vocal in practice, a little bit more vocal in the locker room, vocal in huddles. He is not afraid to put himself out there."
When he's not locating a lane to drive inside, Stevens has also kept fans on the edge of their seats knocking down a midrange jumper, or even the occasional 3-pointer.
"I consider myself a shooter now," Stevens joked postgame following the win against the Terps, where he scored 25 points, including his fourth triple of the season.
As Stevens and Carr both noted postgame against Purdue though, although Penn State played harder against the Boilermakers, without a win, there's still a lot of room to for improvement moving forward.
Putting the past away though, Chambers noted that in the days following he's pleased to see the Nittany Lions back into the gym with the right approach.
"They know we let one slip through our hands a little bit but that's the type of response we want," Chambers said. "We're going to learn from these tough defeats and get back on the horse so to speak, and get back in the practice gym, get some shots up work on our defense and work on our habits."
The formula for the rest of the week included an off day Wednesday and a lighter day Thursday before the Nittany Lions ramped up the intensity today to get adjusted and primed for game speed for Saturday's 3 p.m. tipoff on BTN.
A Bit About Minnesota
The Golden Gophers enter the matchup on a six-game winning streak, coming off an 89-75 win on the road at Maryland Wednesday. The Minnesota streak is tied for the longest in the conference alongside Big Ten standings leader Purdue.
In the earlier meeting of the series this year, Penn State captured a dramatic 52-50 win against then-No. 24 Minnesota, when Carr sank a pair of free throws to push the Nittany Lions ahead, drawing a foul on the final push to the basket. Penn State had also trailed by as many as 10 at the half before earning its fourth consecutive win in the series against the Golden Gophers.
Minnesota is led by leading scorer Nate Mason, who is averaging 16.7 points per game in conference play, which ranks fifth in the Big Ten standings.
The Nittany Lions limited Mason to just seven points in the mid-January outing at home, while Reggie Lynch led the way with 12 points. Lynch is currently one of the nation's best shot blockers, averaging a team-high 3.1 blocks per game, which is tops in the Big Ten standings and third nationally."They're playing for something, we're playing for something," Chambers said looking toward the matchup. "It's a big game for us, especially being on the road. so the mindset is going to be critical to everything we do and we've been talking about it."