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Pregame Reading: Hoops Media Update

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSPorts.com

Hoops Gameday Live Blog - vs. Ohio State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's basketball has returned home from the road, set to close out its 2017 home slate hosting Ohio State Tuesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center. 

Tonight, the Nittany Lions are looking to snap a three-game skid, coming off of an 81-71 loss on the road at Minnesota before hitting the road again to close out the regular season at Iowa Sunday.

Despite the record though, the season's far from over for head coach Patrick Chambers, who noted the Nittany Lions will continue their relentless pursuit to get better at Penn State basketball.

"This is a vicious puzzle that I'm trying to put together for some synergy and some chemistry and to make sure we finish strong, but most importantly continue to get better," Chambers said.

Among the pieces of the puzzle, leading rebounder and shot-blocker Mike Watkins was noticeably absent for most Minnesota outing, grabbing four boards and blocking three shots in 16 minutes on the court against the Golden Gophers.

"Mike was in foul trouble," Chambers said. "According to our analytics, he was plus-9 in 16 minutes."

Watkins' presence is no doubt key to the Nittany Lion defense, changing everything on the court.

"Mike is the main point of our defense and when he's out it's clear to see that it's hard to get rebounds," Carr said. "It kind of makes you buckle down more to keep your guy in front of him just knowing that Mike is not there to save you at the end of the day," Carr said.

As Penn State looks toward its final two games of the season though, Chambers remains focused on finding just the right combination on the court, believing that the Nittany Lions will have to earn the right to a little bit of luck, especially in a few league games that narrowly slipped away. 

"We have to continue to get better and hopefully this thing, the ball starts bouncing our way," Chamber said. "You earn the right to have those lucky bounces, you earn the right to have a little bit of luck to come your way and right now we haven't found that yet." 

Tony Carr Being Tony Carr
Ever since Chambers entrusted Carr with a level of responsibility on par with his veteran captains, the freshman guard has continued to prove why he earned it. Noting that his confidence level is at an all time high, it's not hard see where the certainty is coming from.

Leading the team with 13.2 points per game, Carr is also atop the team standings in assists, having recently set the freshman record with 119 on the year. With at least 20 points in back-to-back games, Carr also dished out seven helpers in both outings. 

"Just kind of figuring out the college game a little bit more, game by game and just finding where I can be effective at," Carr said. "Coaches helping me out and putting me in different places on the floor, at different positions at different times, I would definitely say I'm a very confident player right now."

For Carr, that confidence doesn't come with out extra preparation, as he mentioned taking time to watch film and really identify areas he can be more effective in a different way that most players might approach film study.

"It [watching film] has helped me just so I could figure out where I could get post ups on some guys who are smaller than me or where I can attack certain defenses off the pick and roll and how the big men react to certain moves and things like that," Carr said. "Just watching it and seeing where I can make the game easier for myself and where I can get easier shots."

No Seniors on the Court
While Penn State won't have any seniors on the court at tipoff, the Nittany Lions will honor the contributions of their senior managers, who truly play an important role in the team's success.
 

"I have great relationships with those guys off the court and just being on the road with us, and begin basically everywhere with us, they're not managers, they're kind of part of the team and I'm sure it's going to a special night for them," Carr said. 

More from Carr on the role the #PSUMBB managers play for the Nittany Lions.

What About WHOOP
A few weeks ago, Chambers noted that the team had incorporated WHOOP technology into training. A watch-like apparatus worn on the wrist, WHOOP tracks a variety of metrics to help  athletes reach their top performance potential. For Mike Watkins, part of reaching his highest potential, means getting solid sleep.

"I dealt with it at first, just to test it out, but once you start realizing, 'oh I'm not getting enough sleep,' you see the difference in your performance from when you get enough sleep and when you don't get enough sleep," Watkins said. 

That's made all the difference for Watkins, who went from a three-four-hour sleep schedule to around nine hours of sleep at night. 

"I was all over the place without the WHOOP," Watkins said.

Reach Arielle at ans26@psu.edu or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent

Mindset Key as Lions Head to Minnesota

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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."

Future is Bright, Despite OT Loss to No. 14 Purdue

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Purdue head coach Matt Painter said it best following Penn State's 74-70 overtime loss to the Boilermakers Tuesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center.

 

"It was one of those games, and it rarely happens, where a team outplays another one, plays harder and they lose the game especially on their home court," Painter said. "I think the only category we won tonight was the only one that's important and that's the final score."

 

Penn State led the game for 32:32, while Purdue was ahead for only 9:16. The Nittany Lions also outshot the Boilermakers 43 to 40 percent. Purdue entered Tuesday's matchup having been outrebounded just five times on the year as the Nittany Lions also won the battle on the boards, outrebounding the Boilermakers 40-38.

 

Still it was No. 14 Purdue heading home to West Lafayette, Indiana with the win/

 

The Nittany Lions were extremely effective on the defensive end, tipping passes, diving on loose balls, and contesting shots all night, demonstrating the "attitude plays" that Chambers has stressed all year long.  

 

Penn State held the Big Ten's second-leading scorer, Caleb Swanigan, to just 10 points and nine rebounds in the game. Swanigan was averaging 18.9 points per game and a conference-best 13 rebounds before the contest.

 

"I like to think that our guys left Swanigan and [Isaac] Haas leaving here bumped and bruised too, which is good," Chambers said. "

 

With Swanigan and Haas both effective at patrolling the paint for Purdue, not many opponents are able to dominate the Boilermakers inside, but that's exactly what the Nittany Lions were able to accomplish.

 

Penn State outscored Purdue 46-12 in the paint, while also blocking 10 shots, including three from Mike Watkins. Among the Nittany Lion advantage on the glass, Penn State also owned a 14-10 margin in offensive boards, scoring 14 second chance points.

 

Watkins set the tone for the Nittany Lions on the boards in the first half, registering 12 of his 13 boards in the first half. With just under eight minutes left in the first half, Watkins battled Swanigan inside and won three straight offensive rebounds, eventually getting fouled and going to the line after the third.

 

The Lions also tallied 12 steals, the most a team has recorded against Purdue this season. Sophomore Josh Reaves, the Big Ten leader in steals per game, had five steals himself for the third time this year.

 

Ultimately, Purdue looking toward its perimeter shooters to come through, as the Boilermakers finished with 12 triples, shooting 46 percent from behind the arc.

 

The defensive surge though, is exactly what Chambers noted his Nittany Lions had been working on leading up to Tuesday's matchup, specifically pleased with the performances of Watkins, Julian Moore and Lamar Stevens.

 

"Friday we worked on it," Chambers said. "Sunday and Monday we worked on stances, communicating, not giving them an inch and really pressuring the ball. I would like to think for the most part we did a really good job."

 

That type of physicality and toughness is exactly what Chambers was looking for as the result, noting it's the hardest his Nittany Lions have played all year.

 

As hard as Penn State played Tuesday night though, the resounding feeling with the team after the loss is that there is simply no room for moral victories.

 

"If we don't win, effort doesn't mean anything to me," Tony Carr said. "All that matters is winning. It's everything. I'm proud of my team, we fought back hard, but we just have to come out with the 'W' at the end of the game."

 

Carr stuffed the stat sheet for the Lions with 21 points, seven assists, five rebounds, two steals and two blocks. He came through in the clutch late, scoring 14 of Penn State's last 18 points down the stretch, including six consecutive points in the final two minutes of the game to bring the Nittany Lions back from a six-point deficit to tie the score and force overtime.

 

The Boilermakers tried a plethora of defensive experiments on Carr in the final minutes, but he confidently took any defender off the dribble and finished in traffic with ease.

 

Stevens finished closed behind Carr with 18 points, while also grabbing seven rebounds.

 

Including the Purdue matchup, Carr and Stevens are each averaging 18.2 points per game across the last six games. Combined with the defensive efforts of Reaves and Watkins, there's nothing but optimism as Chambers and the staff look toward the future.

 

In just a brief moment of reflection, Chambers quickly pointed out how far this young team has already come.

 

"If you go back to the first time that we played them we weren't even in the game," Chambers said. "That shows so much growth, maturity and where this program and this particular team is headed."

Men's Hoops Gameday Live - vs. Purdue (2/21/17)

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Returning from nearly a week off from competition, Penn State men's basketball is back in action, hosting No. 14 Purdue in a 6 p.m. matchup Tuesday at the Bryce Jordan Center. Follow along for exclusive content and in-game updates.

Live Blog Men's Hoops Gameday Live - vs. Purdue (2/21/17)
 

Pregame Reading: Hoops Media Update

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Returning from nearly a week off from competition, Penn State men's basketball is back in action, hosting No. 14 Purdue in a 6 p.m. matchup Tuesday at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Nittany Lion head coach Patrick Chambers and sophomore Josh Reaves both met with members of the media Monday to recap the break, while also previewing the Tuesday outing.

Consistency is the key for Chambers as both he and Reaves noted that the younger Nittany Lions are giving full effort despite a bit of an up and down stretch.

Among the streak, Penn State captured a win against then-No. 21/22 Maryland before an 83-70 road win at Illinois. On the other side, Penn State has also lost three of its last five, falling just short in a 110-102 triple overtime loss at Indiana before most recently dropping an 82-66 decision on the road at Nebraska. 

"You can't speed up the process, there's that word again," Chambers said. "You can't speed it up, but we're trying, these kids are trying."

For Reaves, the opportunity to settle into consistency has come at just the right time, as he noted the time off gave the team some time to collect themselves and identify areas to improve to build on the flashes of stellar performances. 

As experience among a young roster packed full of potential continues to grow though, Chambers notes that regardless of outcome, Penn State will need to be at its best heading into the final four regular season home games, specifically as it relates to holding teams under 70. Penn State is 10-0 when limiting its opponents to fewer than 70 points with each of its six Big Ten victories coming when foes are limited to 70 or less.

"We need to be the best team that we can be by the end of the year, which we're getting closer, and then we need to be as consistent as possible from juniors on down," Chambers said. "Consistency and give us a chance to win a couple of these games."

Check out a few more takeaways from the Monday media session.

The Benefit of Time Off
For Chambers, the time off came at just the right time for the Nittany Lions, noting the second half of the Nebraska game revealed some fatigue among the youth on the team.

For Reaves, time off also presented an opportunity to mentally recharge, especially throughout the ups and downs of the schedule with the the Nittany Lions on the road for three of the last five games.

"We had a couple of rough games, some good games here and there but now we had a couple of days off and everybody had to get their school work out of the way," Reaves said. "We have four really big games for us and now that we have everybody back and practicing again, we just tried to clear our heads while we were away, both physically and mentally." 

Rested and recharged, Penn State mixed up its location and format with THON in the building.

"We had a really good schedule this week, we gave them a couple of days off, short practice Friday and then I let them run practice Saturday," Chambers said. "You're always trying to work on your culture, your leadership. I still want these guys to emerge as even better leaders, so you're always working on that culture-leadership aspect of things."

Speaking of THON
With THON occupying the Bryce Jordan Center, Penn State men's basketball wasn't completely out of the building. Chambers headlined the pep rally co-hosting the opening act with marketing manager PJ Mullen.

"I haven't done it in a while and I was really fortunate that we did get this week off and had our bye week so I could be a part of it and it was awesome," Chambers said, having taken the stage fresh off of an appearance at a daddy-daughter dance earlier that evening. "Just to see 16,000 strong out there dancing, just amazing, the energy, the enthusiasm."

With the bye week, the Nittany Lions also got the opportunity to participate in the dance competition.

Captains Practice

As Chambers noted, he gave the Nittany Lions the opportunity to run their own practice Saturday, with captains making the practice plans before taking to the court. Without the presence of the coaching staff around, that didn't mean the Nittany Lions were taking the day off.

"We had a lot of live stuff," Reaves said. "We were going a lot of convert stuff, it definitely got a little edgy, a little chippy."

Taped up and competing for the entire practice, Reaves noted that it was one of the better team practices Penn State has executed without the coaches.

Looking at Purdue
No. 14 Purdue enters Tuesday's matchup with an 11-3 mark in conference play and a 22-5 overall record. The Boilermakers defeated Penn State 77-52 in the earlier meeting this year in West Lafayette, Indiana, highlighted by a 56.6 shooting clip. On the year, the Boilermakers are shooting 48.4 percent from the field, which is tops in the conference rankings. 

Among the Purdue roster, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas are atop the team standings. Swanigan is averaging 18.9 points per game and 13.0 rebounds per game. Haas is close behind with 13.4 points per game on the year and a team-high 24 blocks.

"We have to focus on the 40 minutes of what we can do, what we can control and how we can try to speed them up or make them uncomfortable, get them out of rhythm, get them out of their comfort zone, move them a little outside," Chambers said. "Swanigan is having a year I haven't seen since my time here and Haas is huge, he is a big human being, he's playing really well, he's doing the little things."

Outside of what the Boilermakers bring to the Bryce Jordan Center, Penn State has put together a 4-0 streak against its last four top 25 teams at home, most recently taking down the No. 21/22 Terps in early February.

VIDEO: Men's Basketball's THON 2017 Pep Rally Dance

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Another highly anticipated THON event, check out men's basketball's full pep rally dance! 

Nittany Lions Moving on From Learning Lesson

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com

LINCOLN, Neb. - Early in the week, Penn State head coach Patrick Chamber expressed some concern as the Nittany Lions prepped for their Tuesday evening trip to Lincoln. Inside of a hostile Pinnacle Bank Arena, Chambers' concerns turned to reality as the Nittany Lions fell in an 82-66 decision to snap a two-game conference winning streak.

"Nebraska played terrific," Chambers said. "They did a great job. It seemed like everything was going right for them."

Nebraska jumped out to an early seven-point lead nearly five minutes into the opening half. Freshmen Lamar Stevens and Tony Carr quickly combined for a 9-2 run, sparked by a Stevens 3-pointer, which brought Penn State within two, 15-13.

Returning to the court from an illness, Julian Moore and Stevens pushed Penn State back within two twice more with a pair of jumpers in between a Nebraska dunk. The Huskers responded with a trio of free throws to widen the gap to five, before freshman Mike Watkins added a pair of buckets to keep Penn State within two twice more.

With Nebraska leading 24-22 at the 10:09 mark, the Huskers went surging ahead, stretching the advantage to double figures with a 10-2 streak.

The Penn State freshman group continued to answer back though, narrowing the deficit to as few as five off of a Josh Reaves layup from a Watkins steal with four seconds remaining. 

Nebraska wasn't going away though, extinguishing yet another Nittany Lion spark with a near-half court shot to enter the locker room with an eight-point lead, 37-45.

"We did a decent job hanging in there," Chambers said. "They [Nebraska] hit a half-court shot, if they didn't hit that you'd only be down by five." 

In just their first appearance on the road in Lincoln, Carr and Stevens paced the Nittany Lions offensively in the first half, adding spark after spark to give Penn State the opportunity. Carr entered the half with 13 points, shooting 6-8 from the field with three rebounds and an assist. Stevens added nine points, grabbing two boards before the break. 

Penn State couldn't settle into a rhythm out of the break though, as the Huskers only continued to dial up the defense, shutting the Nittany Lions out of the paint. Hindered by an uncharacteristically off night from behind the arc for Penn State, Nebraska only capitalized on the opportunity.

"Obviously in the second half, they did a nice job guarding us," Chambers said. "I knew we had to make eight 3s to stay in this game because of their defensive style."

A bright spot on the stat sheet, both Carr and Stevens finished with double figures. Carr led the team with 15 points and seven rebounds, while Stevens came in just behind with 13 points and seven rebounds. 

"I thought they did a nice job in the first half, but we need consistency and we need them to play defense" Chambers said.

Without much more to say, Chambers noted that there will be no yelling and no screaming. Rather, Penn State will take the same approach it's taken all season, get back in the gym and get back to work on the little things, habits and toughness in a hostile environment. 

As Chambers also noted though, although young and dealing with a unique set of added responsibility, the Nittany Lions are getting there.

"They are working so hard and to put that much pressure and stress on them to be leaders, to score, to rebound, to defend and do everything for you, as 18-year-olds, it's only going to make them that much better," Chambers. 

Although excited about the future of the young talent though, it's back to work, as the Nittany Lions prepare to host Purdue Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. in the Bryce Jordan Center.

"It's definitely going to be a learning lesson for us tonight," Chambers said. "Hopefully we can carry that with us on our seven days off approaching, and we can be that much better down the stretch."

Men's Hoops Gameday Live - at Nebraska (2/14/17)

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Winners of the last two consecutive Big Ten outings, Penn State men's basketball hits the road once again, traveling to Nebraska for a Tuesday matchup on Valentine's Day. The Nittany Lions and the Huskers square off at 9 p.m. ET in Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln. 

Follow along for exclusive content and live in-game updates throughout the evening. 


Live Blog Men's Hoops Gameday Live at Nebraska (2/14/17)
 

Bench Contributions Key for Nittany Lions

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As the grind of the Big Ten slate continues to roll along, the Nittany Lions will leave the comfort of Happy Valley to hit the road for four of its final six regular season league outings.

The Nittany Lions (13-12, 5-7) kick off the stretch traveling to Illinois to meet the Fighting Illini (14-11, 4-8) for the second time this season Saturday.

Approaching the midway point in the month of February, both Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers and the Nittany Lions have all expressed the all-too-familiar physical and mental challenges surrounding the rigors of the conference schedule.

As Chambers noted Friday afternoon though, heading into the final six games of the regular season, meaningful contributions from the Penn State bench will be huge.

In the last five games, Penn State's bench has is averaging 21.2 points per game, compared to its opponents, who are averaging fewer than 14 points per game from the bench. 

Within that same five-game stretch, Penn State's bench logged a Big Ten-high 29 points in the home win against Illinois, contributing at least 20 points per game in three of the five games.

As foul trouble threatened the Nittany Lions in Tuesday's 70-64 win against No. 21/22 Maryland, freshman Nazeer Bostick stepped up late with a standout series featuring an offensive board, put back and a block on the other end to finish with four points. He wasn't the only one though.

Julian Moore, who had started the previous four games, also came off the bench against the Terps to finish with nine points, including a 5-for-6 showing from the free throw line, sinking a pair at the the 12:52 mark of the first half to put Penn State ahead for good.

"I think we have a really deep bench and coaches who trust in a lot of players," freshman Lamar Stevens said following the Maryland victory. "So having that deep bench, it doesn't stop our game plan at all. We have guys on the bench who can come in, and they'll still do what they're supposed to do. Luckily we had guys that came in that made huge plays like Nazeer and Julian and guys like that." 

Chambers only echoed the mention of trust and confidence, especially among a bench that has seen a few new faces from time to time with five starting lineup combinations to date.

Who has impressed him though?

Chambers specifically noted that both Moore and Payton Banks have been significant in non-starting roles.  

In the five-game stretch, Banks came off the bench to register double digits in each of the first three games, which also includes a 17-point showing against Illinois, where he also shot 4-for-5 from behind the arc. 

"Payton, to be selfless, he really could start, he should start, but he just wants to win," Chambers said. "He doesn't care if he started or came off the bench, so he sacrificed."

Outside of Bostick and with Terrence Samuel out with and illness, Chambers also noted that Davis Zemgulis has also made contributions lately. Making his third appearance in a conference game this season, Zemgulis came off the bench and grabbed a board against Maryland.

"Nazeer and Davis really have stepped up in practice and they stepped up in the Maryland game," Chambers said. "My confidence in them is sky high, so I look forward to them getting more minutes as we go down the stretch here."

A Bit About Illinois
The Fighting Illini head into Saturday's matchup coming off of a 68-61 win on the road at Northwestern Tuesday. Leading scorer Malcolm Hill led the team with 14 points and nine rebounds in the win against the Wildcats.

On the year, Hill's averaging 16.9 points per game, which ranks sixth in the conference standings. In Penn State's earlier win against Illinois, Hill was also one of three in double figures, leading the team with 19 points. 

Having already seen the Fighting Illini this year, the Nittany Lions have plenty to look back on, having held Illinois to less than 70 points with a 60 percent shooting effort in the first half of the most recent meeting. In the second half though, the Fighting Illini trimmed a 20-point Penn State lead to as few as three before the Nittany Lions' impressive foul shooting in the final minutes held off Illinois. 

"We shot the ball well in the first half and then they came out and kind of role reversed, we were still up 22 with four minutes to go and then they just played desperate and hard and we started playing a little bit not to lose instead of playing to win and being confident," Chambers said.

As Chambers noted it was a tale of two halves, but his remedy come Saturday is just the same as always, stick to Penn State basketball. 

Tipoff at the State Farm Center is set for 2 p.m. ET with live coverage on Big Ten Network.

Carr Embracing Leadership Role

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On Monday afternoon, Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers told a room full of media members that Nittany Lion freshman Tony Carr was ready to take on a leadership role.

"He's going to be right there alongside the other captains," Chambers said Friday. "He's ready for it, he wants that pressure, that responsibility, he wants it, he understands what it means."

Flash forward to Tuesday night, which presented a nearly perfect pressure situation for Carr to emerge as the consistent and composed leader the Nittany Lions have been yearning for.

With both Penn State and Maryland coming off of earlier losses, the No. 21/22 Terrapins also entered the matchup as one of the nation's best in true road outings, and just one of two teams to remain unbeaten on the road at 6-0 on the year.

"In the locker room, I could sense something a little bit different, and I thought we'd go out and compete tonight for sure," Chamber said postgame after the Nittany Lions knocked off Maryland to earn its fourth consecutive win against a ranked team at home in the Bryce Jordan Center.

For perspective, per ESPN, that's the longest streak in Penn State's entire program history.

Contrary to many Penn State conference victories this season though, the Nittany Lion victory came without a tremendous amount of nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat drama.

Rather, it was Carr who calmly took command the offense, debuting all the qualities of the fearless leader that Chambers has entrusted him to be.  

Penn State came out solid defensively as freshman Mike Watkins quickly tallied three blocks, shooting 2-2 from the free throw line before Carr and freshman Lamar Stevens added a trio of buckets to give the Nittany Lions a five-point lead, 8-3. 

Maryland responded with a 7-2 run to tie the score, 10-10, capped off by a triple from Melo Trimble, the Terps' top scorer who entered the matchup averaging 17.2 points per game and 16.2 in Big Ten outings.

That was Trimble's last bucket until just under the five-minute mark in the first half, when he put in a layup to spark a quick 4-0 streak that trimmed the Penn State advantage back to four, 28-24. Carr cut off the run with a jumper before a 1-2 showing from the free throw line settled the Nittany Lions into a stretch that gave Penn State a 35-29 lead heading into halftime.

Another piece of Chambers' Monday afternoon message to the media, included a call to action for Carr. Drop the ladder.

"Drop the ladder and pull guys up with you," Chambers said Friday. 

Carr wasted no time getting that ladder into position, not only bringing along, but brining out the best in a host of Nittany Lions Tuesday night.

Stevens opened the second half with a steal, opening a 9-2 run capped off by an emphatic dunk and a transition bucket from Carr to force the Terps into a timeout, with Penn State on top 40-31.

Stevens continued to surge, scoring 16 points in the second half to finish with a team-high 25 points, marking his fourth 20-point game of the season. 

Midway through the second half, Watkins slammed home a dunk to open another 6-0 run to send the Penn State advantage back to double figures, 52-38 as Maryland called another timeout.

The Terps weren't gone for good though, as Maryland managed to battle back within four, 64-58, with 3:26 to play. Penn State wasn't let its lead slip away though, as freshman Nazeer Bostick came off the bench to grab the offensive board, add the put back and then post up for a crucial block on the other end to give Penn State the six-point edge, 62-58.

"He's earned the way into the rotation to be able to get out there with these guys," Chambers said postgame. 

Bostick's big series down the stretch wasn't anything his fellow Roman Catholic high school teammates had never seen before though. 

"He has the nickname 'horse,' because he makes plays like that," Stevens said. "He comes up big in huge moments, and he's always done this since high school. It's not surprising to see Naz just being that tough physical guy, and he deserved to make that play." 

In total, the Nittany Lion freshmen accounted for 53 of Penn State's 70 total points, with Stevens, Carr and Watkins leading the way with double figure scoring performances. Penn State's freshmen also contributing 24 of 37 rebounds on the way to the 70-64 final decision.

Although impressive with zero turnovers in 33 minutes, and a visibly more vocal presence on the court, Carr will now shift toward carrying on the added responsibility at perhaps one of the most pivotal times of the season. 

"Tony was great at the last couple of practices at leading since I had a talk with him about it," Chambers said. "Now he has to be consistent with it. Leadership is every day." 

Penn State hits the road this weekend, traveling Illinois to square off against the Fighting Illini Friday, Feb. 11 at 2 p.m. in Champaign.

@GOPSUSPORTS

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