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Nittany Lions Look to Be More Balanced in 2015-'16

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10937792.jpegBy Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK. Pa. - It was a short offseason for the Penn State men's basketball team.

Following a run to the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, head coach Patrick Chambers gave his players a week off to clear their heads and reflect on the season. Starting this week, however, the Lions wanted to get back into the gym.

"We're excited and we've already started," Chambers said. "We already started our spring workouts and our guys wanted to get back in the gym. That's exciting, especially for me. We're going to start lifting [Monday] and I think they're in a good place heading into the offseason."

While Penn State went through plenty of ups and downs this season, three straight wins in March, including two in the conference tournament, offer plenty to build on for the future. With six players who averaged double-digit minutes returning next season, the Lions will have plenty of experience entering their next campaign.

At the same time, there will clearly be big shoes to fill with leading scorer D.J. Newbill graduating. Not only was Newbill the unquestioned leader of the Lions, he scored nearly 31 percent of the teams points (20.7 per-game) in 2014-'15.

As much as the team relied on Newbill the past three seasons, Coach Chambers doesn't want a single player scoring the majority of the team's points next season. In the Big Ten Tournament, the Lions got double-digit scoring efforts from senior forward Ross Travis, sophomore guard Geno Thorpe and freshman guard Shep Garner, a trend Chambers hopes continues in the future.

"We were close to averaging four guys the last six games in double-digits," Chambers said. "I'd like to see us play like that. I'd like to see really good production. Now do I want to see the disparity between the leading scorer and the second leading scorer? No, I don't. If we can get it to [five different players averaging] 14, 12, 11, 10, 10, that's going to make us a very difficult team to guard."

Even without one dominant scorer, it is likely that Penn State will continue to get a bulk of its offense from its backcourt. Garner and Thorpe, two players that showed exceptional growth this season, will be counted on even more.

A true freshman, Garner started every game at point guard and scored in double figures 15 times, while Thorpe showed such offensive improvement that Chambers inserted the team's sixth man and defensive ace into the starting lineup even though that meant shifting Newbill from shooting guard to small forward.

Still, that doesn't mean that both players don't have room for improvement. Garner, who averaged 9.1 points-per-game, will have even more ball handling responsibility and will need to be more consistent. Thorpe, who improved his scoring average from 3.2 to 8.8 from his freshman to sophomore campaign, will need to continue to adjust to being relied upon on offense, as well as defense.

"We're going to count on them a lot, for different things," Chambers said. "Off the court first, leadership. And they have a lot to get better at and they know that. We're just scratching the surface with both of them.

"Geno really shot the ball well at the end of the season, he was close to 40 percent from three the last six or seven games. Shep gave us that roller coaster ride but a maybe a little more consistent towards the end. I think his assist to turnover ratio was outstanding the last six games."

Although Penn State has had a host of high-scoring guards in recent years, it will be paramount for the Nittany Lions frontcourt to help them carry the load next season. In Jordan Dickerson, Donovon Jack and Brandon Taylor, the Lions have three rising seniors that Chambers believes are capable of doing it.

Out of the three, Taylor is the most accomplished scorer, having finished second on the team in scoring this year with 9.3 points. His ability to score in the paint and from the outside is shared by the 6-foot-9 Jack, while the 7-foot Dickerson will look to further develop his postgame this summer.

"I think Jordan is coming, he shot 60 percent from the floor the last six games," Chambers said. "This offseason is going to be critical for him. We need to put the ball inside, because it's going to put you on the free throw line, but they've got to make their free throws too."

Overall, there will certainly be some transitioning to do as the Lions get used to life without Newbill. With a top recruiting class featuring two ESPN top 100 recruits in Josh Reaves and Mike Watkins and Lithuanian star Deividas Zemgulis, as well as rising sophomores like Julian Moore and Payton Banks, Penn State has more than it's share of young talent.

The goal however, is still to win. Players come and go every year in college basketball, and Chambers is excited to coach the group that he has now.

"I think [the Big Ten Tournament] taught our program and our younger guys that we can compete and we are good enough," Chambers said. "After that game (season ending loss to Purdue), I didn't see a dry eye and I knew we were closer than we've been. We're gonna be young but we're coming." 

Nittany Lions' Run at B1G Tourney Comes Up Just Short in Quarterfinals

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10888130.jpegVIDEO: Postgame Interviews with D.J. Newbill and Ross Travis

CHICAGO - Penn State's strong showing at the Big Ten Tournament came up just shy of a trip to the semifinals following a 64-59 setback to fourth-seeded Purdue on Friday afternoon at United Center.

The Nittany Lions (18-16, 4-14 Big Ten) had the Boilermakers (21-11, 12-6 Big Ten) on their heels for more than 30 minutes in the quarterfinal matchup, but a late 13-0 surge fueled Purdue to a five-point victory.

Penn State stormed to an 11-point lead in the first half (28-17) thanks to a 16-5 scoring run. Brandon Taylor, Ross Travis and Jordan Dickerson fueled the balanced attack, which gave the Lions a double-digit edge at 4:40 in the first half. The Lions led by nine with 1:50 to play in the half, but a quick 6-0 run from the Boilers sent the teams into the locker room with the score at 37-32.

Purdue's 7-0 run in the opening minutes of the second half handed the Boilers their first lead (42-40) since it was 8-6, but the Lions were not done. Geno Thorpe and D.J. Newbill triggered a 9-2 counter attack during the next 4:33 of game time to set the score at 50-44, Nittany Lions, with 9:11 to play.

From there, though, Penn State went cold on the offensive end, weathering more than 8:30 without a point. Purdue mounted its 13-0 run, took a 57-50 lead and never looked back. The Lions got as close as three late, but Purdue finished the game off at the foul line.

Regardless of the outcome, Penn State has nothing to hang its head about. The Nittany Lions battled from the opening whistle of Wednesday's win over Nebraska to the final horn of the quarterfinals on Friday afternoon. Winning its first two conference tournament games since 2011, Penn State took an important step forward for the future of the program this week in Chicago.

"(I'm) proud of my team. Really competed to the end," head coach Patrick Chambers said. "Three days, three games in the Big Ten is very difficult, and the way these guys competed today in the second half, they gave it everything they had, and I think this is a stepping-stone for our program, and I think they have everything to do with it, the legacy that this group has left for Penn State and Penn State basketball. I think you're going to see it for a long time because this was a critical step in the process of becoming an elite basketball team, and it's because of them."

The Nittany Lions certainly left a lasting image on those from around the conference at the Big Ten Tournament. The buzz around United Center for the past three days was Penn State's gritty, never say die approach to every second the team is on the floor.

"I learned that our program has got a lot of heart," said Chambers. "It's got a lot of grit and work ethic. We have a terrific attitude, because you don't come into the Big Ten Tournament, win two games and give yourself a chance in the third game three days in a row in the Big Ten without all those characteristics, and we can build off that. It's an incredible foundation."

No player on the roster deserves more credit for his efforts in laying the foundation for what is come for the Nittany Lion basketball program than Newbill. He finished an incredible string of games at the Big Ten Tournament with 19 points, and the senior guard went down swinging, as he has done every time he has stepped on the floor wearing the Blue and White.

"I competed every game, every practice, every workout, from the summers to the fall to the winter, and that's why I look at my career and just know that I gave it my all," Newbill said. "I think everyone around me knows that, too."

The All-Big Ten guard did not win as many games as he deserved to, but it wasn't for a lack of commitment, effort and dedication to a program and coaching staff he loved dearly. It's rare to come across a student-athlete with the drive of Newbill. A tremendously talented player on the floor, Newbill is a better man off the floor. The Philly product embodies the type of passion in a player every coach dreams of mentoring.

"This has meant everything to me," Newbill said. "From the moment I stepped on campus to the moment I put the jersey on, I gave every fiber of my body to go out there and compete at the highest level possible. It means everything to me."


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Nittany Lions' Run at B1G Tourney Comes Up Just Short in Quarterfinals

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10888130.jpegVIDEO: Postgame Interviews with D.J. Newbill and Ross Travis

CHICAGO - Penn State's strong showing at the Big Ten Tournament came up just shy of a trip to the semifinals following a 64-59 setback to fourth-seeded Purdue on Friday afternoon at United Center.

The Nittany Lions (18-16, 4-14 Big Ten) had the Boilermakers (21-11, 12-6 Big Ten) on their heels for more than 30 minutes in the quarterfinal matchup, but a late 13-0 surge fueled Purdue to a five-point victory.

Penn State stormed to an 11-point lead in the first half (28-17) thanks to a 16-5 scoring run. Brandon Taylor, Ross Travis and Jordan Dickerson fueled the balanced attack, which gave the Lions a double-digit edge at 4:40 in the first half. The Lions led by nine with 1:50 to play in the half, but a quick 6-0 run from the Boilers sent the teams into the locker room with the score at 37-32.

Purdue's 7-0 run in the opening minutes of the second half handed the Boilers their first lead (42-40) since it was 8-6, but the Lions were not done. Geno Thorpe and D.J. Newbill triggered a 9-2 counter attack during the next 4:33 of game time to set the score at 50-44, Nittany Lions, with 9:11 to play.

From there, though, Penn State went cold on the offensive end, weathering more than 8:30 without a point. Purdue mounted its 13-0 run, took a 57-50 lead and never looked back. The Lions got as close as three late, but Purdue finished the game off at the foul line.

Regardless of the outcome, Penn State has nothing to hang its head about. The Nittany Lions battled from the opening whistle of Wednesday's win over Nebraska to the final horn of the quarterfinals on Friday afternoon. Winning its first two conference tournament games since 2011, Penn State took an important step forward for the future of the program this week in Chicago.

"(I'm) proud of my team. Really competed to the end," head coach Patrick Chambers said. "Three days, three games in the Big Ten is very difficult, and the way these guys competed today in the second half, they gave it everything they had, and I think this is a stepping-stone for our program, and I think they have everything to do with it, the legacy that this group has left for Penn State and Penn State basketball. I think you're going to see it for a long time because this was a critical step in the process of becoming an elite basketball team, and it's because of them."

The Nittany Lions certainly left a lasting image on those from around the conference at the Big Ten Tournament. The buzz around United Center for the past three days was Penn State's gritty, never say die approach to every second the team is on the floor.

"I learned that our program has got a lot of heart," said Chambers. "It's got a lot of grit and work ethic. We have a terrific attitude, because you don't come into the Big Ten Tournament, win two games and give yourself a chance in the third game three days in a row in the Big Ten without all those characteristics, and we can build off that. It's an incredible foundation."

No player on the roster deserves more credit for his efforts in laying the foundation for what is come for the Nittany Lion basketball program than Newbill. He finished an incredible string of games at the Big Ten Tournament with 19 points, and the senior guard went down swinging, as he has done every time he has stepped on the floor wearing the Blue and White.

"I competed every game, every practice, every workout, from the summers to the fall to the winter, and that's why I look at my career and just know that I gave it my all," Newbill said. "I think everyone around me knows that, too."

The All-Big Ten guard did not win as many games as he deserved to, but it wasn't for a lack of commitment, effort and dedication to a program and coaching staff he loved dearly. It's rare to come across a student-athlete with the drive of Newbill. A tremendously talented player on the floor, Newbill is a better man off the floor. The Philly product embodies the type of passion in a player every coach dreams of mentoring.

"This has meant everything to me," Newbill said. "From the moment I stepped on campus to the moment I put the jersey on, I gave every fiber of my body to go out there and compete at the highest level possible. It means everything to me."


Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Big Ten Tournament Postgame Interviews vs. Purdue

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CHICAGO - Penn State's run at the Big Ten Tournament drew to a close on Friday afternoon with a tight 64-59 setback against Purdue. The Nittany Lions represented themselves very well in the United Center all week, playing three good games in three days. GoPSUsports.com caught up with seniors D.J. Newbill and Ross Travis in the locker room following the game.




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2015 Big Ten Tournament Blog - Penn State vs. Purdue

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CHICAGO - Welcome to GoPSUsports.com's live, interactive coverage of the 2014-'15 men's basketball season. On Friday, the Nittany Lions will meet fourth-seeded Purdue in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament inside United Center.

Live Blog 2015 Big Ten Tournament Blog - Penn State vs. Purdue
 

Looking Ahead - Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals vs. Purdue

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10870222.jpegGame Blog - Penn State vs. Purdue

CHICAGO - Behind a 48-point second half, the Nittany Lion basketball (18-15, 4-14 Big Ten) topped fifth-seeded Iowa on Thursday, 67-58, for a spot in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, where the Lions will meet fourth-seeded Purdue (20-11, 12-6 Big Ten) on Friday at 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) inside United Center.

Thursday's victory marked Penn State's third-straight, all of which coming in a five-day span. Friday will be Penn State's first trip to the Big Ten quarterfinals since the Lions advanced to the championship game in 2011. The Lions and Boilermakers have met just once in the Big Ten Tournament. That matchup came in the quarterfinals of the 2009 tournament (Purdue, 79-65). The winner of Friday's matchup will move on to face the winner of the Wisconsin-Michigan game in the tournament semifinals on Saturday.

It has been nearly two months since Penn State and Purdue collided inside the Bryce Jordan Center on Jan. 17. The Boilermakers used a last-second offensive rebound and 3-pointer from Kendall Stephens to send the game into overtime. The Nittany Lions led by nine at halftime and controlled most of the second half before the Boilers rallied late.

Nonetheless, Purdue got off to a hot start in overtime and never looked back in an 84-77 victory for the Boilers. D.J. Newbill had 37 tallies in the game. Stephens led Purdue with 22 points and six 3-pointers. Big man A.J. Hammons had 21 points and 12 rebounds, as well.

Purdue enters the Big Ten Tournament having won five of its last seven games, including a 63-58 win over Illinois in the regular season finale. Guard Rapheal Davis was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year on Monday, and he will likely spend Friday afternoon tracking Newbill's every move.

Take an inside look at the matchup.


B1G Tournament_Round III_Purdue.jpg


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Second Half Surge Powers Nittany Lions to Big Ten Quarterfinals

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10884247.jpegVIDEO: Postgame Interviews with Coach Chambers, Players

CHICAGO - Nittany Lion seniors D.J. Newbill and Ross Travis were not going to be denied another chance to put on the Penn State uniform at the Big Ten Tournament.

The tandem combined for 20 tallies during Penn State's 48-point second-half onslaught in a 67-58 victory over fifth-seeded Iowa (21-11, 12-6 Big Ten) on Thursday afternoon in the second round of the tournament. Winners of three-straight, the Nittany Lions (18-15, 4-14 Big Ten) move into the Big Ten quarterfinals for a showdown with fourth-seeded Purdue (20-11, 12-6) on Friday at 2:30 p.m. (ESPN).

"Wow, what a rock fight out there, just two teams playing incredibly hard, intense, giving it up for their teammates and coaches," head coach Patrick Chambers said. "We're fortunate to come out as winners. I'm really proud of my team...The team really contributed in every way. I'm really proud of them, and we're happy to stay in Chicago another day."

It was a tale of two halves on Thursday, with the Nittany Lions scoring 19 points on just 25 percent shooting in the opening 20 minutes. Iowa led by eight (27-19) at the break, but the Blue and White stormed out of the locker room, using a 15-2 run mid-way through the second half that altered the complexion of the game.

Penn State took a 36-34 lead (11:01 to play) at the culmination of the rally. Iowa tied the game on the next two possessions, but the Hawkeyes did not lead in the final 11 minutes of play. Newbill, who finished with 18 points, scored seven-straight during one span to give the Lions a 49-42 lead with 7:02 to play.

The Philly native and Travis, who scored 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting, made play after play when the Lions needed it on both ends of the floor.

"They really stepped up at a critical point in the game to give us a little cushion, D.J.'s little run, and Ross did it throughout the entire game," Chambers said. "He played really hard, battling those guys inside. They're huge, and he was fearless in there."

Fearless doesn't begin to describe Travis on the play of the game. Holding a 58-56 lead with the shot clock winding down, Travis caught the ball in the corner and drove along the baseline to his right before fending off contact for a reverse lay-in and an old-fashioned three-point play with 30.4 seconds to go.

"You know, I just saw the shot clock winding down and the ball was in my hands, so I just had to baseline it to make the play," Travis said. "It went in, I made the free throw, and it was a big moment in the game."

Newbill raced home for a slam on the next Penn State possession to put icing on the victory and a date with Purdue on Friday afternoon.

"Being in those late game situations, four‑minute games, two‑minute games, coming down to one possession, one stop, one rebound, I think we learn from that because we've lost so many," Newbill said. "But yeah, I think we're a different team then than we are now. We're looking forward to a dogfight. Purdue plays hard and we play hard, so it's going to be a great one."

No one is more deserving of the opportunity to keep playing than Newbill. A guy who has poured his heart and soul into the Penn State program since the day he arrived, Newbill is cherishing every last second.

"I'm a senior at the end of my college career, so putting the jersey on (again) means everything to me," Newbill said.

Riding the wave of momentum, the Nittany Lions are a dangerous team no one wants to see on the Big Ten Tournament bracket.

"Nothing is going to change, same approach, great confidence, why not us?" Chambers said.



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VIDEO: Big Ten Tournament Postgame Interviews vs. Iowa

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CHICAGO - Penn State moved into the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament with a 67-58 victory over Iowa inside United Center on Thursday afternoon. Head into the winning locker room to hear from head coach Patrick Chambers and several players following the victory.


Coach Chambers Interview




Player Interviews





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2015 Big Ten Tournament Blog - Penn State vs. Iowa

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CHICAGO - Welcome to GoPSUsports.com's live, interactive coverage of the 2014-'15 men's basketball season. On Thursday, the Nittany Lions will meet fifth-seeded Iowa in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament inside United Center.

Live Blog 2015 Big Ten Tournament Blog - Penn State vs. Iowa
 

Looking Ahead - Big Ten Tournament Second Round vs. Iowa

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10870222.jpeg
Game Blog - Penn State vs. Iowa

CHICAGO - Following a 68-65 win over Nebraska, the Nittany Lion basketball team (17-15, 4-14 Big Ten) moved into the second round of the Big Ten Tournament and will meet fifth-seeded Iowa (21-10, 12-6 Big Ten) on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. ET (BTN) inside United Center.

Wednesday's win marked Penn State's second-straight victory and first at the Big Ten Tournament since the Nittany Lions marched to the championship game in 2011. The Lions and Hawkeyes have met just once in the Big Ten Tournament. That matchup came in the semifinals of the 2001 tournament (Iowa, 94-74). The winner of Thursday's game will meet fourth-seeded Purdue on Friday in the quarterfinals.

Having met just 12 days ago in the Bryce Jordan Center, the two teams are quite familiar with one another. Penn State led by as much as 12 in the first half of the game on Feb. 28, but 15 turnovers plagued the Nittany Lions in an 81-77 Iowa victory in overtime. Four Penn State players scored in double figures, led by 19 from D.J. Newbill.

Thursday's game will be played on a much different stage, and the Nittany Lions have a great deal of momentum following two strong outings. Take an inside look at the matchup.

B1G Tournament_Round II_Iowa.jpg

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