UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions (10-8, 1-4 Big Ten) will play their fourth road game in their first six Big Ten outings when they travel to Evanston for a matchup against Northwestern (15-3, 3-2 Big Ten) on Saturday for an 8:30 p.m. ET tip on ESPNU.
Penn State is in the midst of a rigorous start to the Big Ten slate. In addition to play four of their first six on the road, the Lions will have played four teams with at least 13 wins after Saturday night's game. Two of the games were on the road against No. 3 Maryland and No. 24 Purdue and last Sunday's home clash against No. 4 Michigan State.
The Lions will return home to the BJC on Thursday for a matchup against Wisconsin. For now, though, head coach Patrick Chambers is taking things one game at a time as the Lions look to snap a two-game skid when they take the floor in Welsh-Ryan Arena.
"The first 10 (Big Ten) games, we knew what it was going to be," said Chambers. "We knew it was going to be difficult. There is no doubt. We can't look at it like that. We have to look at it day to day. I think morale is fine."
The staples of a Chambers-led Penn State team have been defense and rebounding. The Lions have historical been near the upper echelon of the Big Ten in both categories during the past five seasons. This year, however, has been a little different to start conference play.
The Lions are ninth in field goal percentage defense and 11th in scoring defense. Coach Chambers circled those stats as indicators of where the team needs to continue evolving as the Big Ten season wears on.
"Defense is a major area (for us right now)," said Chambers. "I thought we would be among the best defensive teams in the Big Ten this year. And right now, that is not the case...That's gotta change. For us to compete at a high level and be in games, we have to get back to our identity of defending and rebounding."
Coach Chambers informed the media on Friday's conference call that the Lions would be without one of their best defenders, Josh Reaves, for at least three weeks due to mono. Reaves missed a game for the first time in his Penn State career on Wednesday at Purdue. In 17 games, he averaged 6.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals. Without the true freshman on the floor, the Lions lose guy with great speed and athleticism.
"Now, we need guys to step up," Chambers said. "Isaiah Washington is going to get a ton of minutes. Davis (Zemgulis) has got to step up. Julian Moore is going to get more minutes. He's got to step up. We've got to just keep this team moving in the right direction."
The first test without Reaves will come in the form of a Northwestern team that has won 12 of its last 14 games. The Wildcats knocked off Wisconsin, 70-65, on Wednesday foe their third Big Ten win. Northwestern is averaging 76.8 points per game. Sophomore guard Bryant McIntosh leads the Wildcats in scoring at 16.1 points per game.
"They are sharing the ball really well. This is a much better team then they've been in the past," Chambers said. "Chris (Collins) is doing a really good job. That's why they have three wins already. Their defense is one of the best in the league."
Saturday's game will mark the fourth-straight meeting between the two teams that will have taken place in Evanston. The Nittany Lions own a 28-16 all-time edge against Northwestern, which includes a 12-10 mark in games played in Evanston.
"We have to make shots. We've got to have a great road attitude and make shots on the road," said Chambers. "If you are open in the Big Ten, it's a very rare occasion, and you've got to make them with confidence. It's going to be another great challenge."
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