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A win-win THON game

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - While Penn State knocked off Rutgers, 60-43, Saturday night in front of a packed Bryce Jordan Center, the night was about more than just basketball.

 

Saturday's game between the Nittany Lions and the Scarlet Knights marked Penn State's annual THON game. It's a night for giving back and helping the fight against childhood cancer, with every $5 student ticket sale going directly to THON. It also doesn't hurt to come out with a win, too.

 

"I thought it was a win-win today," head coach Patrick Chambers said postgame. "With THON, the THON game and what THON means to me personally and to our program and our players and our staff. I'm blessed I have four healthy children that are running around the halls right now and I won't forget that."

 

For junior guard Josh Reaves, Penn State played for more than just the team Saturday night.

 

"We were able to show kids with that type of illness that we're going to get it done for them," Reaves said. "I hope they had a really good time at the game with everybody. I'm just really happy that we could put on a show for them."

 

Penn State students were gifted exclusive "dance with us" shirts in various bright colors as they entered the game. The giveaway lit up the Bryce Jordan Center in a colorful sea of 13,677 fans, the largest crowd since 2011.

 

"I've never seen it like that before," Reaves said. "All those people were here for a cause and like coach said in the locker room it's a win-win."

 

Pregame, the concourse filled with THON families and children visiting various stations for games and prizes. Joined by her mother, McKenna Speed, a THON child, sang the national anthem brining along the crowd in unison.


 

"I started singing," Chambers said. "Unfortunately, and I'm embarrassed to say this, sometimes I don't and I sang today. I think a lot of people in the Bryce Jordan Center started to sing. For me, that was everything. It was an emotional beginning for sure. To know that she had the courage and the guts to get in front of 13,000 and change, get up there and sing and do the best she can, and then everybody joined in to help her along. That's what Penn Staters are all about."

 

As is customary with the annual THON game, the team hosted a postgame festival in the south gym for THON families after the game.

 

The festival was full of food, music and games of all sorts. There was corn hole, hoola hoop competitions and basketball games all happening at once. Even the Nittany Lion got in on the action, challenging children to games of one-on-one and taking pictures with fans.


 

The team set up a massive blow-up obstacle course that had kids entertained from start to finish. Seven-footer Satchel Pierce joined in, and struggled to get through, but eventually found his way to the end.

 

The team joined the party to sign autographs for the families and take fan photos as well.

 

Chambers entered the gym prior to his postgame press conference to a loud applause following his team's victory. He was quickly introduced and grabbed the microphone to address the crowd.

 

The raspy-voiced Chambers, with his vocal chords clearly tired from yelling over the raucous crowd all night, applauded the fans for their passion during the game and spoke on how proud he was to be a part of an event like this.

 

"It was because of you," Chambers said. "You brought the energy. You brought the noise."


 

The music blared once again and the party was on.

 

Not just a party to celebrate the win. A party to celebrate life.

 

As important as wins are at this point in the season to the Nittany Lions, Chambers said there's more important things in this world than the game of basketball. That's what Saturday night's THON game was all about.

 

"Whenever I can do anything for THON I'm going to do it, and the fact that we got a win is nice too. It was definitely a great day for Penn Staters," Chambers said.    

Penn State Friday Five

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's basketball stunned the crowd at Value City Arena Thursday night, topping No. 13 Ohio State 82-79 with a game-winner from Tony Carr at the buzzer. With less 48 hours until the Nittany Lions return to the court, Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers noted it only took about an hour until he was moving on to Rutgers.

From last night to what's ahead, take a closer look at few storylines in the Friday hoops five before starting another packed Penn State sports weekend.

Channeling the Mental Conditioning
Mental conditioning is of course a familiar phrase for Chambers this year, but coming off a thrilling win with a tight turnaround on deck is just the type of scenario for it to really shine through - or punch through as he might say.

"We've been here before, so let's look back at those experiences and see what we did right and what we did wrong and learn from those experiences," Chambers said.

Penn State will go short today, with Chambers listing scout review and film on the schedule, not changing up the routine too much though.

Carr's Best Game Yet
Chambers called Carr's defensive performance against the Buckeyes his best all year.

"I thought he was in stances, I thought his energy was great, I thought his body language was fantastic," Chambers said. "That goes into leadership. I don't think it was because he was making shots. I saw that in walk through. I saw that in practice the prior three days."

Carr was certainly making shots though, at 10-for-14 from the field and 4-for-5 from behind the arc totaling 28 points in addition to five assists and five rebounds. When asked if he'd go further to say it was Carr's best game since he arrived, Chambers confirmed. 

"I think everybody maybe wants to think Texas A&M but I would say no, we lost," Chambers said. "I think across the board, 10 out of 14, five rebounds, five assists and a win, I think we would all say - I think he would say, I'd rather not score 30, I'd rather score 28 and win but be efficient."

Reaves Returns
Chambers noted he and director of basketball operations Ross Condon met the day prior to the team's trip to Columbus, where Condon opted to remain home in Happy Valley should Josh Reaves finish addressing an academic matter. By mid-afternoon, it was Condon who hopped in the car with Reaves to embark on the nearly 330-mile drive. They arrived around 6:45 p.m. ahead of the 8 p.m. tipoff.

"The beauty of it was the entire team was on the floor," Chambers said. "He [Reaves] came in, saw me, we went over some things, scouting report, things of that nature basketball wise. I told him to have some fun because you know he was going to be shot out of a cannon just going crazy. I thought he kept his emotions in check. When he walked out on to that court, the team erupted. It was a big mosh pit in the middle of the court, which was pretty amazing. Pretty fantastic to have that kind of energy and love for each other." 

For Chambers, the energy was palpable form the moment Reaves rejoined his teammates, only adding a whole different level of confidence and belief for the Nittany Lions, who went 1-3 in the four games he missed.

"They played very loose, played with great confidence and let's give Josh a little credit," Chambers said. 

Zemgulis into the Starting Lineup
Penn State saw junior Deivis Zemgulis enter the starting lineup for his first career start against the Buckeyes. Averaging just six minutes per game in conference play, Zemgulis went 5-for-5 from the field with one triple and a key rebound in a Big Ten season-high 14 minutes on the court.

"Davis has been bought in," Chambers said. "I know he's had a crazy career, up and down and everybody wants to critique his shooting. Davis, as you can see, his body has changed, he has gotten stronger, he has gotten tougher. The buy in factor for me was huge. When he's in practice, he's a junior, he knows the rotations, he knows the slides, he communicates. We were struggling rebounding, he's going to find a body." 

THON Hoops
Saturday's game also marks Penn State's THON hoops game, featuring $5 proceeds from student ticket sales directed toward the organization. Penn State will also have free t-shirts available to the first 3,000 Penn State students with special activities located throughout the Bryce Jordan Center concourse ahead of the tipoff. Doors will open early Saturday, with fans allowed to enter at 2:30 p.m.

"Anytime I'm with Four Diamonds or working with THON, there's something that touches your heart that you want to help these families," Chambers said. "The kids are so resilient. Sometimes it's about the parents really, supporting them and helping them. Anytime we help lock arms or chain up with THON the organization and just be a little bit a part of them, is a win for Penn State basketball."

Penn State Ready to Punch Through

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For Penn State men's basketball, there's still plenty of hoops to be played. With Monday's unfavorable result now well in the past, the Nittany Lions have had time to rest up and recover ahead of Saturday's mid-afternoon road game at Northwestern.

Embarking on its first road trip since a close 4-point loss at Indiana 10 days ago, the Nittany Lions will play three of their next four games away from Happy Valley. Despite splitting back-to-back overtime games since the trip to Bloomington, the subsequent ups and downs are all part of the process for Penn State head coach Chambers.

"I know nobody wants to hear about the process but it's getting a little bit more consistent, it's growing up a little bit more each game, each possession, each set back," Chambers said. 

"Watching film, breaking it down, getting back to work today, getting back to practice, these guys are going to come in with great energy."

Energy is exactly the way to define the last time Penn State and Northwestern met, with the Nittany Lions sending an enthusiastic crowd at the Bryce Jordan Center home buzzing from a 78-63 win against the Wildcats.

That victory also kicked off a blazing scoring stretch for sophomore Lamar Stevens, who totaled a career-high 30 points in the victory. In the month of January alone, Stevens is averaging nearly 21 points per game, shooting 57.1 percent from the field.

Although Chambers noted Stevens was a bit on the mend this week, he mentioned the staff would opt to be smart about his practice schedule leading up to gameday.

Penn State will hardly have the luxury of rinse and repeat game plan though, as Chambers noted Northwestern has made some significant changes to what the Nittany Lions will see come Saturday at Allstate Arena.

"Northwestern has changed the way they play," Chambers said. "They're playing zone now. They played some one-three-one, some zone, some two-two-one, so since our game they had played all man-to-man all year long, since that game, they have completely changed, offensively, they style of play."

As Chambers also noted, Penn State has seen success against zone this year, pointing to a 77-73 win on the road at Iowa in the conference opener in early December.

Penn State never trailed in the victory against the Hawkeyes, with double-digit scoring from different Nittany Lions, led by a 22-point performance from Stevens.

Including the win against the Wildcats Penn State is 2-2 in its last games, all part of some necessary adversity in the overall growing process. Among those games, two were decided by four points or less. If tough times don't last and tough people do though, that's exactly what the Nittany Lions are embracing headed into a road-heavy January finale.

"I just think we need to go through the tough times to be able to come out on the other side," Chambers said. "We're still in control of our destiny. We control it still. There's plenty of basketball left and we believe that we're in great position. We're in every game."

For Chambers and the team, it's clear success is well within reach, but the learning lessons are meant for the Nittany Lions to endure together.

"We're close. We're right there. We're growing, we're learning, we're right there, we're right where we need to be," Chambers said. "We just need to get guys healthy and we have to punch through."

Penn State Breaks Through in OT Victory

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's basketball saw some much-needed toughness on display Friday evening. In its first overtime game of the season, sophomore Tony Carr had nine of Penn State's 11 points in extra time, including a deciding jumper to guide the Nittany Lions a 76-74 win against Nebraska.

On what would be considered an off night for Carr, he finished with 17 points and eight assists. Carr's heroics though, came at perhaps just the right time, as he struggled for most of the evening before nailing his first two-point shot from the field with fewer than two minutes remaining in overtime. 

Seated in the media room postgame after recording his 100th win at the helm of the program, it was his team's ability to breakthrough and finish that Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers led off with. 

"We were talking about toughness, getting over this hump or breaking through and being physical," Chambers said. "I feel Nebraska is one of the toughest teams in this league. One of the more physical teams in this league, and I felt like we were a little bit tougher today." 

Penn State had Nebraska right where it needed at halftime, entering the locker room leading 33-24, holding the Huskers below 30 percent shooting from both the field and the 3-point line.

With a new starting lineup featuring true freshman Jamari Wheeler, things were seemingly sailing along smoothly.

"It's great to have him out there starting with us now," Carr said reflecting on Wheeler's performance. "He makes everybody better, mainly me. Helping me get easier shots, getting me off the ball. His changing of the tempo of the game is great for everybody."

Trailing only by one in the opening half, 15-14, sophomore Lamar Stevens connected on a triple before Wheeler stripped the ball for a steal to set Stevens up for a breakaway slam in between a Husker free throw to spark a 14-8 stretch that carried the Nittany Lions to halftime.

"I feel like when Lamar has three-point shot's falling, he is unstoppable because he's bigger and stronger than most guards are supposed to be," Carr said. "When his threes are falling, it's kind of like pick your poison."

Stevens closed out yet another consistent performance, totaling 26 points and seven rebounds for his third consecutive 20-plus scoring outing.

Watkins was equally as consistent, scoring 20 points and grabbing 15 boards for his fourth straight double-double. Watkins is the first Nittany Lion since Geary Claxton in 2007-08 to record four consecutive double-doubles (Lehigh, 12/31/07, Northwestern, 1/2/08, Illinois, 1/6/08, Minnesota, 1/12/08).

With roughly six minutes remaining in regulation and Penn State up by nine, 59-50, Nebraska moved to a one-three-one, opening up on a 10-2 scoring streak across the next three minutes to arrive within one. 

Mike Watkins answered with a pair of free throws but Nebraska went 3-for-4 from the charity stripe to tie the score at 63-63. Penn State couldn't pull ahead for good as a late Husker jumper forced overtime. 

"We have to give Tim [Miles] credit," Chambers said. "He is a really good coach. That took a lot of guts, with six minutes to go that is not your staple defense and he did it for the next six and five for the next eleven or twelve minutes." 

Cue Carr in the overtime period, as his coaches and teammates continued to give him the confidence to keep going for it.

"When you're telling a kid that, he tends not to think about what's happening as a negative, he tends to think, alright, these guys really support me, I'm going to go get the next one," Chambers said. "He hits a big three, he hits a couple of floaters, it's big time."

It's all part of the game for Carr, who noted that even though is last game winner might not have gone in, it's this one that matters. 

"There's going to be nights like that when your shot isn't falling and defense is keying on you," Carr said. "You just have to keep attacking and keep taking those shots. I've been working so hard, and I'm going to keep taking them as the season goes on."

Penn State Looking Toward BJC Return

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State basketball is back in a bit of a familiar place, preparing to return home from a bitter road loss to regroup. Although pleased with the progress and the high points along the way, it's clear to Nittany Lion head coach Patrick Chambers that it's once again, time to respond. 

"It's a new day, we've got to get better today," Chambers said. "We were a little out of sync and that's okay. We'll watch film, we'll come back to work, get in practice with those different lineups that we now have and try to get those lineups better."

On the heels of its third Big Ten loss by six points or less, Chambers hasn't lost sight of the path, opting to take small steps forward instead of casting focus too far ahead.

"I always feel like we're right there and then we always get a little shot of adversity and then you've got to punch right back, you've got to come back and handle it, make your tweaks and adjustments," Chambers said. "We are thisclose to being able to handle the next obstacle, the next adversity and getting on a run. I really believe that." 

Since resuming conference play, the Nittany Lions bounced back from a road loss at Maryland with a defining 78-63 win against Northwestern last weekend in front of an energized crowd at the Bryce Jordan Center. Looking to build off the momentum, the Nittany Lions entered a notoriously hostile environment on the road Tuesday night at Indiana, falling short in a comeback attempt. 

"Our offense did not look anything like it did on Friday," Chambers said reflecting on the loss to the Hoosiers. "We need to play more consistent on the road and if we can bottle up that energy and that effort that we played with last Friday night, we'll find success."

Road-woes aside, for Chambers it all comes back to a familiar phrase - mental conditioning. It's all encompassing too, from desire and energy to discipline and focus, it's something that Chambers has yet to consistently see from the Nittany Lions.

"It's fighting through when you're tired, it's fighting through when you're not shooting well, it's fighting through when the team's going on a run," Chambers said. "It's fighting through, handling obstacles and adversity and sticking together, especially on the road when their fans are going crazy. That's when you've got to fight and stick together the most."

There's still nearly 10 days before Penn State heads back on the road, providing back-to-back opportunities for the Nittany Lions to get back on track in front of a growing home crowd. With students returning to their usual spots in the stands led by the Legion of Blue, there's plenty to look forward to.

"The Legion of Blue has been awesome," Chambers said. "I've actually gotten to know them really well and that's been a great relationship for me. When they get here and when the students come it's awesome and we have a great atmosphere." 

In Penn State's last Bryce Jordan Center outing, the Nittany Lions were confident in the win against the Wildcats, powered by a career-high 30-point outing from sophomore Lamar Stevens. With at least 20 points in the last two games, consistency from Stevens is key for the Nittany Lions. 

"When he's fresh, he's in stances, he's doing a good job," Chambers said. "I'd like to see him rebound a little bit more but just the mental conditioning. It's that aspect of the game when he's hitting that 34-35-minute mark, he's got to really punch through for us."

The Nittany Lions host Nebraska Friday, Jan. 12 at 7 p.m. in the Bryce Jordan Center. At 12-6 on the year, the Huskers are 3-2 in the Big Ten coming off of a 63-59 win against Wisconsin on Tuesday.

Stevens Powers Penn State in Bounce Back Win

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -  Penn State sophomore Lamar Stevens said it's his head coaches' favorite word - respond.

That's exactly what the Nittany Lions did Friday evening, bouncing back from a tough road loss at Maryland just days earlier with energy and enthusiasm. 

"Sometimes after a loss like that, where you're winning for 36 minutes and you come up short, it can fracture a young team, and that's something we talked about for two days, about toughness, about will and about just taking little steps," Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers said. "We don't have to take a big, giant step. That's not how this works. Take small steps and continue to fight and compete on every possession."

Dialed in from Wednesday film session to the first whistle on Friday, Chambers had a good feeling heading into the matchup.

"You have to have a short memory when you're playing this game and that's something our team is really developing," Stevens said. "We got back to work the next day and worked even harder and for the next two days, we worked hard, so I think it was able to really show tonight."

Although leading early, Penn State found itself with a one-point advantage, 7-6, before a bucket from Stevens and a steal and score on a breakaway from freshman Jamari Wheeler sparked some momentum. Wheeler then forced a Wildcat turnover to send the Nittany Lions into the first break leading by five, 11-6.

"Jamari is just an unbelievable leader and energy guy, juice guy, competitive fire, I can't say enough about what he does for our team," Chambers said. "He's a selfless teammate and he wants to play great." 

Wheeler came off the bench to dish out a season-high five assists, leading the team with three steals.

Penn State grew its advantage as high as 16 before closing out the first half with a seven-point lead, 41-34, despite a late Northwestern triple at the buzzer.

The Nittany Lions though, shot a blazing 71 percent from the floor in the first half, led by 16 points from Stevens and 11 from Mike Watkins, marking the best shooting clip in a half in 11 seasons.

"Breaking down the film from last year, I thought we were a little too stagnant on the offensive end and we made sure that wasn't going to happen," Chambers said. "We had great movement, great flow. I think Lamar [Stevens] did a great job of picking and choosing his spots. I think his teammates did a really good job of finding him."

Stevens continued to roll out of the half, opening the second frame with an alley-oop slam before a pair of Watkins free throws.

The Nittany Lions quickly fell into a three-minute scoring drought as the Wildcats chipped away at the advantage. Northwestern narrowed the gap to as few as three, 47-44, helped out by back-to-back 3-pointers with 15:08 left to play. 

It was a 9-0 Nittany Lion run though that Northwestern head coach Chris Collins called the backbreaker. 

Penn State's scoring streak featured a pair of Stevens dunks, capped off by a Tony Carr free throw to send the advantage back into double figures.

"Again, that 'r' word, responding with adversity," Chambers said. "Some of these kids have never truly faced adversity. Adversity is losing that game in the last four minutes at Maryland. How are you going to respond? They responded great. They cut it to three, I saw positive body language. Maryland at four minutes, I didn't see positive body language when they tied it up. This was a 3-point game, a one possession game and I saw them play with a little chip on their shoulder and that's what we're going to need now for the rest of the season."

The Wildcats answered with two consecutive treys once again but the Nittany Lions wouldn't let Northwestern any closer than six- responding to each challenge to close out the win, improving to 2-2 in conference play.

"Responding to him, it's responding to all the adversity," Stevens said when asked about his head coaches' thoughts on the word. "I think we're really starting to take shape and I think it's a credit to our leaders, Josh [Reaves] and Shep [Garner], because they control the locker room, they really help the young guys, and we're young, so they help us too, so credit to them."

Stevens would hardly take any credit for his career performance, registering his first 30-point performance, shooting 14-for-19 from the field. 

Watkins also put on another consistent display with 18 points and 17 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season. Watkins stuffed his stat sheet with four blocks, shooting an impressive 5-for-6 from the field and 8-for-11 from the free throw line, also a career mark from the charity stripe.

Penn State Strikes From 3 to Top Binghamton

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's basketball used a balanced scoring effort to top Binghamton in an 80-65 nonconference win Tuesday evening at the Bryce Jordan Center.

The final score doesn't quite tell the whole story though, as Nittany Lion head coach Patrick Chambers noted he's proud of Penn State's second half effort.

Although the Nittany Lions shot out to a 10-2 lead early, Chambers knew Penn State wouldn't be able to sustain the momentum. As the Bearcats battled back to tie the score and momentarily jump ahead by three on the strength of a Tyler Stewart triple, 19-16, Penn State opted to regroup.

Moments later, Tony Carr connected on a 3-pointer to even the score before a Lamar Stevens dunk sent Penn State back on top. Although Penn State held on for a 39-36 lead at halftime, Chambers remained confident the Nittany Lions would find their footing.

Less than a minute into the second half, Shep Garner ignited a 9-5 scoring streak with a pair of triples that pushed the Nittany Lion advantage to double figures, 53-41 with 15:17 left to play. 

Binghamton wouldn't go quietly, narrowing the gap to eight with 5:20 remaining. Penn State continued to look toward its success from the 3-point line as Reaves and Garner connected on three consecutive treys to bolster the advantage back to as many as 15 with fewer than three minutes left in the game. 

On the night, Penn State shot 59 percent from behind the arc, marking its best outing since shooting 52 percent in the win at Iowa.

All five Nittany Lion starters finished in double figures, with Stevens leading the way with 16 points. Much to the pleasure of Chambers, the Nittany Lions dished out 17 assists, marking the most in a nonconference game this season, led by a career-high tying nine helpers from Carr. 

Perhaps more difficult than digging deep for the win against Binghamton or what's to come against Rider though, is maintaining focus.

"I'm proud of our guys for the second half," Chambers said. I didn't think we played as well, again, Binghamton give them credit, but we were finding ways. This is such a difficult time for our kids, our players, because you have Christmas, you want to go home, nobody's here, there's so many distractions on the outside with the holidays."

Reaves, who finished with 15 points, four assists and two steals, only echoed what Chambers said about the unique time of year. 

"It's difficult knowing that break is coming up and people are trying to go home for the holidays and finals are over and people are just so relieved of the stress and everything, so, I feel that it's time to lock in more," Reaves said. "I try to tell my teammates, I know that we're off of school and we have a break but basketball is not over. We still have games to play, practices to do, treatments to go to so, it's definitely difficult."

For Chambers, the remedy to locking in, comes in mindset.

"We just have to stay present," Chambers said. "We have to keep these guys here, spend time with them because we can. Tomorrow, bring them back in, do some cold tubs and some lifting and some stretching and doing some film work, maybe shoot some free throws because we've been going for seven straight days and that's including exams and we looked a little sluggish in the first half. We found a way to win but we have to be smart about these next couple of days and try to keep these guys on task."

That means relying on leadership too, with Chambers pointing to Garner, who made five 3-pointers for the first time since mid-November, with at least four in five of 13 games this year.

"He made big shots but I want him to lead too," Chambers said. "I'm looking for him to really emerge and not let us miss a step here, not let us stub our toe, to continue the process of getting better. Those are the shots that we've seen him make in the past and he'll continue to make them for us."

After a seven-day grind that included a dominant road win at George Mason, Chambers noted there will be a bit of time away from the court, as he'll host the team for a Christmas party at his house tomorrow evening.

It's back to work Thursday though, with practice scheduled before Friday's gameday routine. Penn State and Rider is set to tip at 7 p.m. from the Bryce Jordan Center, with live coverage on BTN. 

Watkins' Consistency Key in GW Win

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's basketball wrapped up the week with a dominant 74-54 win against George Washington to head into finals week on high note.

The Nittany Lions shot out to a hot start and never looked back, in control from start to finish.

For Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers, it was Josh Reaves who set the tone, pushing the lead to nearly 20 with a steal and dunk in the first half to stretch the momentum in an already surging opening frame.

"Josh has a lot of energy, he's long, he can jump high," Shep Garner said. "He's a great person to have at the top of the press. He puts a lot of pressure on the guards and we get the steals out of it and he can finish it. We get dunks and layups and and-1's and that gets our team going. We knew that we were going to use that press a lot tonight and we were prepared."

Five Nittany Lions reached double figures for the fourth time this season as Penn State settled in off of Reaves' momentum for a balanced offensive outing.

Penn State shot 59 percent from the field in the first half as Garner sent the Nittany Lions into the locker room leading 48-19 with a 3-pointer in the final seconds. GW's 19 first half points marked the second time this season the Nittany Lions have held an opponent to less than 20 points in the first half, also tying a season-low mark.

The offensive outing was hardly the highlight for Chambers and the rest of the team, as the focus all week in practice was centered around getting back to the basics, defense and rebounding.

"We had a long week of practice," Garner said. "Our main focus was defending and rebounding. we really harped on it in practice and it really showed tonight. We were ready to defend. We held a good team to 19 points in the first half."

Penn State commanded a 25-7 advantage on the boards in the first half, including a 9-1 mark on the offensive glass. On the night, Penn State out-rebounded GW 42-25, marking Penn State's third-highest mark on the glass this year and the most since grabbing 43 against NC State.

Mike Watkins led the way for the Nittany Lions, with a game-high 12 rebounds to along with 15 points for his second double-double of the season.

Watkins' consistency has been nothing short of key for the Nittany Lions and a welcome addition to his game for both coaches and teammates.

"He was great all week," Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers said. "He has just really matured and been really consistent and that is what we need from Mike. We need Mike dialed in on everything, and they are starting to throw him the ball a little bit."

In the last three games, Watkins is averaging nearly 19 points per game, coming off a career-high 22-point outing against Wisconsin on Monday.

His consistency though starts in practice, as Watkins spent the week wearing a weighted vest, testing his limits along the way.

"He's been wearing that vest, he was trying to get ready for the game," Garner said. "He thought he was going to be super light today. He's been dominating. dominating practice, dominating the games. That's one thing I've been mentioning to him over and over. Dominate, every possession, just dominate. He's been doing it, he's making our life that much easier." 

The Nittany Lions will take a few days off to turn the focus toward academics with finals week quickly approaching.

"We need to finish strong academically," Chambers said. "That is extremely important to me and to our administration. We are going to take a couple of days off here so our guys can focus on their academics. We will do something late on Tuesday but will come full force on Wednesday. But it is really important to give some time away to focus on what they need to do."

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." 

Nittany Lions Resilient among Adversity

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GAME 10: Wisconsin

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It came down to the final seconds of play, but Penn State men's basketball couldn't complete its comeback attempt, falling short against Wisconsin in the Big Ten home opener.

For Nittany Lion head coach Patrick Chambers, Penn State did all could, climbing back from a nearly 20-point second-half deficit to arrive within one in the final seconds of regulation. 

"I'm proud of my guys competing to the end," Chambers said. "They put us in a position to be successful. I thought we executed our end of game stuff as good as you can. To come back from that deficit, we dug a little deeper because we looked a little sluggish in the first half."

Trailing 31-25 at halftime, Penn State struggled out of the locker room as the Badgers went up by as many as 17 points with 9:40 remaining.

Signature to a Chambers-led team though, the Nittany Lions weren't going to go quietly.

"We're a team that never gives up, no matter the deficit," Shep Garner said. "We're a team that never gives up and we always preach one possession at a time. We focus on the possession that we're on, whether it's offense or defense, we try to compete the best we can on each possession and try to get back in the game."

With fewer than nine minutes left in the game, Garner sparked a 23-9 scoring streak, bringing Penn State within three, 60-57, with a clutch triple forcing Wisconsin to call a timeout with 1:53 left to play.

"I thought we needed it at that time, I thought it was perfect for the time," Garner said. "I knew once we got going, once the crowd got into it a little bit, we would go on a run. I just knew I had to start something to get us going." 

A pair of Garner free throws out of the break drew the Nittany Lions within one, 60-59, as Penn State continued to trade foul shots with the Badgers. 

Trailing by one with 15 seconds on the clock, Penn State collected a board off a missed free throw attempt to send the ball the other direction, but a missed Tony Carr 3-point attempt clipped the comeback attempt.

"I thought we had the right matchup and Tony made that decision," Chambers said. "Whatever Tony thought. I am not in his vision, I am on the sideline. I don't know what he saw. But he is a heck of a player and he makes really good decisions, so I am going to trust that decision."

The Nittany Lions certainly won't spend time dwelling on the final possession or the outcome though.

"We're a team that sticks together through thick and thin and we didn't lose the game on that shot," Garner said. "It's a long game, a lot of mistakes from start to finish. We're confident in him [Carr] to make those shots. He didn't make it tonight, but we didn't lose the game on that play. He's fine."

While Chambers noted there's plenty to learn from, Penn State can also take pride in a few positives.

Mike Watkins led all scorers with a career-high 22 points for his second career 20-point outing. He grabbed eight blocks and totaled a Big Ten career-best seven blocks, helping to limit Wisconsin All-American Ethan Happ to a 3-for-12 outing from the field.

"Even though we kept him to nine points, the three assists he made were critical," Chambers said. "He's was in a little bit of foul trouble and again I thought Mike did a really good job on him, but it was our team for the most part that did a really good job on him."

Watkins was one of three Nittany Lions in double figures, alongside Carr (16) and Garner (13). Carr led the team on the boards, setting a Big Ten career mark with nine rebounds against the Badgers.

With Penn State's next Big Ten game scheduled nearly a month from now, the Nittany Lions will get back to work, spending the next three weeks wrapping up the nonconference slate.

"We are going to watch this film," Chambers said. "We are going to dive into Iowa a little bit more and we will have a good film session on Wednesday and try to get better. I didn't think we played our best basketball, and we still gave ourselves a chance to win. Let's give Wisconsin some credit though, but we still gave ourselves a chance. We had the ball, down one with 10 seconds and the ball was in our best player's hands. That is all we can ask for at that stage."

@GOPSUSPORTS

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