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Pregame Reading: Lions Focused on Mental Conditioning

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's been a fast and furious start to the season for Penn State men's basketball. Coming off a stretch that featured six games in 14 days, including a pair of December Big Ten tests.

At 7-3 on the year, for Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers, it's the last three games that have given the Nittany Lions a look at exactly where they're at upon returning to the nonconference slate for the remainder of the month. 

"I treated NC State, Iowa and Wisconsin -  that's going to be our schedule in the Big Ten," Chambers said. "There's going to be very similar setups and we have to be mentally tougher to say, 'we have to compete the same way every single night, no matter if you're making, missing shots or turning the ball over.' We want to see a consistent effort." 

Consistency and mental toughness are at the forefront of the Nittany Lion focus this week as Chambers stressed a desire for just a little more postgame following a bitter 64-63 loss to Wisconsin - something he's seen a little too common in the three-game stretch.

"The last six minutes, you see that we still have more to give," Chambers said. "That's really what I'm going to talk to them about. The mental conditioning aspect of it where we have to know next possession, next play, missed shot, made shot, turnover, great assist, whatever. We still have to play at a certain level to be in the upper echelon of the Big Ten." 

While the mental conditioning aspect of the game might seem a bit more individual, Chambers noted there are many different situations he'll draw up in hopes of inspiring the next-level toughness.

"I'm always trying to challenge them and push their buttons a little bit to get them to get more out of them to see where we can get these team," Chambers said. "We see where we need to go now, I think it was a great litmus test for us." 

Among other areas, Chambers pointed to an increase in production from the bench. More than just stuffing stat sheets though, it's the bench's energy that's crucial to team success.

"It's the energy level, the juice and the fire that we need off of our bench," Chambers said. "I just don't want to drop off in intensity in what we're trying to do. Jamari [Wheeler] has been fantastic. He works so hard, the ball's going to fall for him and he's got to shoot. I already told him, you have to shoot the ball, you're open, you've been shooting beautifully."

Although limited against the Badgers, Wheeler was a key contributor off the bench against both Iowa and NC State, finishing with a career-high four assists to only one turnover against the Hawkeyes in his collegiate Big Ten debut.

"These practices are going to be critical for our young guys and guys coming off the bench," Chambers said. "Obviously GW is going to be a great test, they just beat Temple. We're going to have a great challenge."

George Washington heads to Happy Valley with momentum, having won its last three straight in an 8-day stretch. Among the streak, GW's Jair Bolden is averaging 18.3 points per game, alongside Yuta Watanabe, who's leading the way with 18.7 points per outing in the span.

Regardless of momentum though, for Chambers, the remainder of this week has been all about Penn State and of course, the details.

"We had a great opportunity and they didn't seize it and they understand that we have to do simple better and take care of the details," Chambers said. "I think offensively, we can cut harder, run harder, screen harder. Defensively, we can be in stances more, although our defense is still one of the top 20 defenses in the country, it can be better." 

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