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Reaves Powers Penn State Past Minnesota

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's basketball isn't the same team it was a few months ago. Unsure if his Nittany Lions could have pulled off the same comeback just a few weeks or even months ago, Penn State rallied from behind to take down No. 24 Minnesota in a close 52-50 decision.

Returning to the roots of Penn State basketball, Chambers' renewed emphasis on fine tuning toughness when it comes to defense and rebounding, has only created trust and communication as a welcome byproduct along the way. 

Saturday afternoon, Penn State displayed another chunk of how far its come in front of 11,759 fans inside the Bryce Jordan Center, even showing a little bit of where it's still headed.

"These guys have really grown up, they're committed, they're starting to build trust out there and they believe in us," Chambers said. "The connectivity of the program and this group right now is really in a good place. That's why you're able to win a tight game down as much as we were and be able to finish it off."

After trailing by as many as 14 in the first half, Chambers felt like his team could not play much worse, as it entered the locker room facing a double digit deficit. 

The Nittany Lions quickly found themselves down by 11, 33-22 no more than a few minutes into the second half.

Striking the spark though, it was Julian Moore, connecting on a pair of dunks in between one from the Gophers to shave the gap to nine, 35-26.

The Nittany Lions then ignited the flame, as Payton Banks drained his first triple of the day to open an 11-3 run that pulled Penn State as close as one, 38-37, after Josh Reaves went 2-for-2 from the charity stripe.

Penn State wasn't stopping there, as a Mike Watkins and-1 gave the Nittany Lions their first lead of the game, 40-38, with fewer than 10 minutes to play in the second half.

The Golden Gophers refused to go away though, battling back-and-forth until a pair of free throws off of an intentional foul called on Reaves and another bucket, sent Minnesota back up by as many as four, 46-42.

As both teams stalled offensively, Penn State put together a 3-for-5 stretch from the free throw line to climb back within one, 46-45. Looking to pull ahead for good, the Golden Gophers capitalized on a Penn State miscue, connecting on a bucket off of a missed Nittany Lion dunk to go ahead by three, 48-45.

Calm under pressure, the Nittany Lions called a timeout to regroup, coming out of the break with another clutch 3-pointer from Banks to tie the score, 48-48.

Still, Minnesota answered back.

Fouled on a second chance attempt on the next offensive possession, Watkins came through with a pair of timely free throws to tie the score once again, 50-50, with 1:25 left on the clock.

Taking another timeout to regroup after a missed 3-pointer, Carr went driving in for the bucket with a mere seven seconds remaining in the game, drawing a foul.

Coming off of the ball screen, Chambers noted that Carr attacked the basket just as he was asked, but as Carr stepped up to the free throw line to attempt a pair of go-ahead shots, there wasn't much that Chambers or his teammates needed to say to him before the release.

"I looked at him and I said, just like practice," Reaves said.

Carr sank both shots, giving Penn State the 52-50 edge as the Golden Gophers heaved a near-half court attempt to try and force overtime at the buzzer.

"He wanted the basketball, so make or miss, no matter what happened today you have yourself a really good point guard who has a lot of courage," Chambers said.

Having shot less than 30 percent from the field in the first half with 10 turnovers, the Nittany Lions transformed a sluggish start into a fiery second half, all credit to tightening up on the defensive end, knowing in the locker room at halftime, that defense would be the key to emerging with a win.

"Every game in the second half we just kind of have this boost and we just ride that momentum but, that's a really good team," Reaves said. 

Among a host of key contributors, Chamber noted postgame that it was Reaves who made up 90 percent of the victory.

With nine points and eight rebounds, Reaves wasn't the leading scorer or the team's top rebounder. Those honors went to Watkins, who finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds for his fourth career double-double, a Penn State freshman record.

Reaves did however, lead the the team with five steals and three assists, but that's just a small representation of how much he meant in the Penn State victory.

"His energy, his effort, his juice, his fire, his compete, his passion, his edge, he was unbelievable, he was all over the floor," Chambers said.

Not represented on the stat sheet, are a total of 39 "attitude points," kept internally by the team for plays that encompass all the little things.

"That's remarkable," Chambers said of Reaves' impressive tally. "That means you're getting things done."

As Chambers also noted, Reaves told him he wanted to be the heart and soul of the team. With the "torch accepted," there was no doubt Saturday that he was anything short of the team's driving heartbeat. 

"I just go," Reaves said. "My second wind is really fast and it comes really fast and I don't try to think about getting tired because that's a mental thing," Reaves said.

Penn State remains home next week, with a quick turnaround before another Big Ten outing. The Nittany Lions welcome Indiana for a midweek matchup Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. in the Bryce Jordan Center.

Men's Hoops Gameday 2016-17 vs. Minnesota (1/14/17)

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's basketball has returned from the road, set to host No. 24 Minnesota in its first home Big Ten outing. The Nittany Lions and the Golden Gophers are set to square off at noon Saturday, Jan. 14 in the Bryce Jordan Center. 

Stay up-to-date with live in-game updates and exclusive content as the Nittany Lions look for their second consecutive conference victory.
Live Blog Men's Hoops Gameday 2016-17 vs. Minnesota (1/14/17)
 

Energy, Intensity Rising for Nittany Lions

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Fresh off of a win against Michigan State, Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers is thrilled to get back to practice, even wishing for a midweek outing to keep the momentum alive.

For Chambers though, seeing the little things come together against the Spartans has only revealed another layer of potential, as Chambers believes the Nittany Lions still have more to give.

Although without a midweek game, Penn State will not spend time basking in the success of its first win against Michigan State since 2011, as the Nittany Lions will look to remain focused on Saturday's task. 

"I think what I see in practice is a team that is not relaxed, a team that's not content or complacent, thinking oh we won a big game, we've finally arrived and we've figured it out," Chambers said.

Looking to continue the focus, Chambers noted he'll still look for the Nittany Lions to refine habits, work on executing in end of game situations and of course, continue cleaning up the little things.

Talking About Practice
Chambers noted that he called off practice early this week due to such a high level of intensity, something he couldn't quite remember the last time he saw from his team.

Junior Payton Banks noted that short, hard practices are now frequent as the energy continues to rise, recalling the one Chambers called short.

"That practice specifically, the competition level was just at a really high level and he kind of just wanted to end it there," Banks said. "He saw it getting a little bit sloppy and he didn't want to ruin it at the end so he kind of just cut it short." 

For Banks, that level of competition is growing in consistency, something he says is a big difference between this year and years past, crediting the incoming freshmen for bringing the added energy.

With practices formatted to be short in duration and tough in intensity, that has left a 30-minute window that Chambers now utilizes for a post-practice film session. As Banks says, it allows the Nittany Lions to focus on the positives, keeping the most recent practice fresh in the mind.  

"When we do that on a daily basis, you can see improvement and I feel like that's the biggest thing for a lot of guys, you need to see what's getting better and what's working," Banks said.

Juice Man
Speaking of energy, fans were treated to a show from Josh Reaves, who put on an impressive Palestra performance that wasn't necessarily reflected in his postgame stat line. Reaves, who accounted for three of Penn State's six dunks against the Spartans, proved to be a spark from the moment he stepped on to the court. His ability to elevate the Nittany Lion energy on the court to a new level, is something Chambers is happy to have back, after an injury sidelined Reaves for the first five games of the season. 

"We're 8-4 in our last 12, we're doing some really good things because you have healthy bodies, you have healthy guys - I'm going to knock on wood, and he's that guy in every day practice who is going to be feisty and bring the energy and the juice," Chambers said.

Looking at Minnesota
For Chambers, a combination of athleticism, speed, length and skill are all key components of a surging Minnesota team that earlier this week entered the Top 25 for the first time since 2013.

At 15-3 on the year and 3-2 in conference play, the Golden Gophers knocked off Purdue on the road in overtime before defeating Northwestern and Ohio State. Bookending the three-game winning streak, Minnesota's two conference losses have both come against Michigan State, most recently with a 65-47 loss on the road in East Lansing Wednesday night.

"They have a really good top seven or eight guys that are able to compete in the Big Ten and Richard [Pitino] has done a really good job," Chambers said.

The Golden Gophers currently rank among the best in the nation in shot blocking, averaging 6.6 blocks per game, which ranks sixth nationally and first in the Big Ten. Redshirt junior Reggie Lynch is atop the league standings and eighth nationally, blocking a little more than three shots per game on the year.

Tipoff between the Nittany Lions and the Golden Gophers is set for noon at the Bryce Jordan Center with live coverage on ESPNU.

Chambers on the Big Ten
Top to bottom, Chambers said that this year the Big Ten is pretty amazing, especially related to current standings early on in the season.

"It's crazy," Chamber said. "Top to bottom, it's pretty amazing this league this year, how strong it is and how difficult it is to get wins because on any given night if you're not bringing your best you're going to lose."

More from Chambers on the Big Ten picture below.

PHILADELPHIA - To Penn State freshman Lamar Stevens, it felt like home. For Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers, it was a magical experience. Inside Penn's historic Palestra on a snowy afternoon in the heart of Philadelphia, Penn State men's basketball (10-7, 2-2) knocked off Michigan State (11-6, 3-1), 72-63 to earn its first win against the Spartans since 2011, and the first of the Chambers era.

Even 22-year Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo noted that despite a loss, Saturday's electric Big Ten outing in a building that first opened its doors in 1927, would be a memory-making experience he'll cherish anyway.

Having regrouped and reset from a tough loss on the road at Michigan a mere three days earlier, the Nittany Lions roamed the halls of the Palestra yesterday, with a few even climbing the famous "Rocky steps" at the entrance to the Philadelphia Museum of Art this morning.

With a 2017 roster featuring six Philadelphia natives and Chambers himself calling the City of Brotherly Love home, the Nittany Lions put on a Saturday afternoon show packed with toughness and all things true to a gritty Penn State basketball squad, in front of a sold-out crowd of nearly 9,000 fans, clad in mostly Blue and White.

"These kids will never forget this experience as long as they live and it was nice to come out on top for sure," Chambers said. 

The Philly flavor was plentiful from the start as Mike Watkins came off the bench to slam home the first of six dunks on the day, sparking a streak that he finished off with a pair of layups following a Payton Banks block. Just the beginning of what was to come, Penn State was already leading by six, 12-6 at the first media timeout.

Michigan State came storming back, trimming the deficit to as few as two twice. With the Nittany Lions up by two, 16-14, it was another dunk, this time by Julian Moore, that struck the spark. Moore's dunk opened up an 11-2 streak, which featured a pair of layups from Moore and Tony Carr before a block from Josh Reaves and Bank's first triple of the day ignited the crowd.

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Penn State took its first double digit lead of the day following another triple from Banks, who just a year ago helped the Nittany Lions to a 17-point comeback win against Drexel in the Palestra with a then-career high 20 points.

Although the Spartans narrowed the gap to five with a little more than two minutes to play in the opening frame, 37-32, back-to-back buckets from Stevens followed by a trey from Carr sent the Nittany Lions into the locker room leading by 12, 44-32. 

Penn State shot 60 percent from the field in the first half and 50 percent from behind the arc, on the strength of five of its "Philly 6" Nittany Lions, who accounted for 34-of-44 first-half points.

Reaves, who had been relatively quiet during the opening half, came out of the break with an emphatic slam, the first of three second-half dunks.  

Following the hot start in the second half, the Nittany Lions fell into a bit of a slump, as the Spartans cut the advantage to five, before Stevens put an end to a nearly 3-minute Penn State scoring drought with a jumper to make it 54-57. 

Michigan State arrived within five once more, just before Reaves slammed home two more dunks in between a single Spartan free throw, sending the Nittany Lions ahead by eight, with MSU only threatening once more.

Finishing with six points, a team-high six assists, four blocks, two steals and two blocks, Reaves' energy was nearly palpable to fans throughout afternoon, as well as imperative to his teammates.

"Josh only had six points," questioned Carr at the postgame press conference glancing up from his stat sheet. "That definitely didn't determine the outcome of the game, he just does so much all over the court, he's constantly talking, he's the best defender on the team, he just kind of makes up for everybody's mistakes, so it's constant effort and energy," Carr said.

Chambers only echoed Carr and Stevens.

"Six assists, two blocks two steals, man they were huge, they were really big plays and he wasn't scoring so it's a credit to him," Chambers said.

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Although a seemingly perfect ending to a homecoming for a majority of the roster, it didn't come without diligent preparation and a business-like approach.

Earlier this week, it was Chambers who noted that he'd certainly be addressing the possibility of homecoming emotions posing a challenge to his young Nittany Lions. Three of those Nittany Lions (Nazeer Bostick, Carr and Stevens) had seemingly just visited the Palestra not even a year ago as the trio led Roman Catholic to a Philadelphia Catholic League title last March. 

Led by Chambers though, he instilled in his team that regardless of who might be filling the stands and no matter what the distractions might be, the Nittany Lions would approach the Spartan matchup with the mindset to play for the guys to the left and to the right, with toughness.

"Coach did a great job handling our emotions, telling us to focus on the game and just look around at the locker room and focus on each other, your teammates and your brothers," Stevens said. "Coach did a really great job, we followed what he did and we focused on each other and our brothers and it was successful."

 Outside of emotions, for Chambers, it all starts on the defensive end. Penn State displayed perhaps one of its best defensive showings, out-rebounding the Spartans 28-38, including a 9-4 margin on the offensive glass in addition to eight second chance points. 

Every Nittany Lion to see the court grabbed at least one rebound, led by nine from Watkins and six apiece from Carr and Stevens 

"We got stops and we got rebounds, and that's one heck of a rebounding team and we won the rebounding battle," Chambers said.

For Izzo, it was Penn State's toughness that impressed him, as the Nittany Lions shot 46 percent from the field, the highest of any of Michigan State's Big Ten opponents this year. 

Fittingly, three Philly natives led the Nittany Lions with double figure scoring. Stevens led the way with 18 points while Carr finished with 14 including two triples. Watkins and Banks (a California native), added 11 points each, with Banks also knocking down a pair of 3-pointers. 

Now its back to the Bryce Jordan Center for the Nittany Lions, with a week off to prep for Minnesota. Penn State hosts the Golden Gophers Saturday, Jan. 14 at noon in the BJC.

Men's Hoops Gameday 2016-17 vs. Michigan St. (1/7/17)

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PHILADELPHIA - As the Big Ten slate continues to roll along, Penn State is set to host its first conference opponent at the historic Palestra, squaring off against Michigan State Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. 

Follow along for live up-to-the minute updates and exclusive content all afternoon. 




Live Blog Men's Hoops Gameday 2016-17 vs. Michigan St. (1/7/17)
 

Hometown Ties for Penn State at the Palestra

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As the Big Ten slate continues to roll along, Penn State is set to host its first conference opponent at the historic Palestra, squaring off against Michigan State Saturday afternoon.

While the Nittany Lions are regular contenders inside the storied building, the Spartans will make their first trip to the Palestra since 1966, and their first under the direction of 22-year head coach Tom Izzo.

It's no surprise Penn State is such a frequent visitor to the City of Brotherly Love, with a total of six Nittany Lions on the roster calling the Philadelphia area home, along with head coach Patrick Chambers, who calls Delaware County home.

For the Nittany Lions, a homecoming trip is no different than any other business trip this year, as Penn State remains focused on the task at hand rather than the excitement of family and friends.

"We're focused on Michigan State, we want to get a win, that's the bottom line," junior Shep Garner said. "We're going to come home and get a win, try to defend them [Michigan State] the best way we can, keep them off the offensive glass the best way we can, and come out of the Palestra with a win." 

On the emotional side, Chambers did acknowledge the potential challenge regarding keeping his young Nittany Lions focused on what's happening "in between the lines." Not all emotion is bad emotion for Chambers though. 

"Sometimes good emotion, it's okay to have," Chambers said. "You want that energy, you want that fire, I want them to be excited. I put the schedule together for a reason, so we could make memories last for a lifetime and we're definitely doing that but I want to put them on a stage that we're hopefully soon to get to and we'll be ready for it when that arrives." 

It won't be the first time that a few Nittany Lion freshmen have hit the court at the Palestra though, as Nazeer Bostick, Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens all helped Roman Catholic to a Philadelphia Catholic League title less than a year ago in March 2016.

"It's crazy," Stevens said, reflecting on the atmosphere inside a building that first opened its doors in 1927. "It doesn't fit that many people, but you can feel kind of every body, it's a special place to play and I'm excited to go back and play with Penn State and hopefully we can come out with a win."

Past Palestra Performances and Timing
Penn State is 3-2 in its last five games with a total of five Nittany Lions averaging double figures. Stevens and junior Payton Banks are both pacing the unit, with Stevens averaging 13.0 ppg and Banks just behind at 12.8 ppg. 

Stevens also happens to be coming off a strong performance on the road at Michigan, narrowly missing a double-double with a team-high 16 points in addition to nine rebounds, despite foul trouble late in the game. 

"He played with some toughness," Chambers said. "He played with some fearlessness, did some really good things, he shot out of a cannon the first four minutes, he was our scoring."

His teammates have also taken note of the physical, confident demeanor, which has him also second on the team in rebounding, with nearly six boards per game on the year.

"As he said, his main job, his main focus is just go out there and play hard and be physical, rebound, and he does it to the best of his abilities," Garner said. "He was in foul trouble a little bit last night but I don't have a problem with that at all, he goes out there and does his job and that's all you can ask from him."

Although not a Philadelphia native, Banks, is also no stranger to the Palestra. Banks was instrumental in Penn State's 17-point comeback victory against Drexel December 19, 2015 at the Palestra.

One of three double-figure scorers along with Garner, Banks led the way with a then-career high 20 points, with 16 points in the second half alone. Banks went 7-for-16 from the field and 5-for-5 from the free throw line, adding six rebounds in Penn State's most recent Palestra appearance.

On The Hunt
Looking back on Penn State's midweek Big Ten road trip to Michigan, Chambers is quick to focus on just the positives despite a close 72-69 loss after the Nittany Lions were up by as many as 14 in the second half. He hasn't seen those positives all together in one consistent stretch just yet though.

"I'm on the hunt for this great team that's within this locker room and we're going to find it and it's going to come out," Chambers said. "I think you saw a great glimpse of that great basketball against Michigan, the talent really appeared. The togetherness, the connectivity, when it's rolling, man does it look good, especially on the defensive end."

The Nittany Lions will also be on the hunt for their third consecutive win when playing at the Palestra and their first victory against the Spartans since the Big Ten Tournament in 2011. 

Tip time against Michigan State is set for 1 p.m. with live coverage on ESPN.

Penn State Shines in Nonconference Finale

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's basketball closed out its nonconference schedule with a statement, rolling to a 96-55 win against Morgan State Wednesday evening at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Totaling at least 90 points for the second consecutive game for the first time since the 1995-96 season, the Nittany Lions dominated the Bears from the opening minutes until the final buzzer. 

"It was great to see our guys so dialed in and so focused on trying to play 40 minutes of Penn State basketball and I'll give the entire team credit for that and the captains," Chambers said. 

Penn State owned a 49-32 advantage on the boards, logging a season-high 49 rebounds led by 10 from Carr, who also finished with 11 points for his first career double-double. 

Carr was just one of six Nittany Lions to finish with double figures, with Lamar Stevens leading the way with his second career 20-point game. Payton Banks added 11 points while Mike Watkins, Shep Garner and Julian Moore all scored 10 apiece, marking the first time Penn State has seen six in double digits since January 2015. 

Averaging 12 seconds per possession in the opening frame, Penn State moved the ball in transition with ease, scoring 23 fast break points to just seven from the Bears in the first half.

The Nittany Lions finished with 27 fast break points, while also totaling 23 assists to mark the fourth time this season Penn State has dished out at least 20 assists. Carr led the way, dishing out eight assists to narrowly miss a triple double. 

"We have a lot of playmakers out there, Shep [Garner], Tony [Carr], obviously Tony had eight, Josh Reaves had six, Terrence [Samuel] is getting involved with that and our bigs are really good passers and Lamar [Stevens] is a willing passer," Chambers said. "You have a lot of guys with a pretty good IQ who are giving up good for great which is terrific." 

It didn't take long for the Nittany Lions to channel their momentum from Saturday's win against St. John's. A mere 30 seconds into the game, Reaves came up with a steal before finishing in with a bucket to spark the early run, opened up by a pair of free throws from Stevens. 

In addition to six assists, the steal was just the first of four from Reaves on the night. Since earning a spot in the starting lineup against Pitt after an injury, Reaves has been a key contributor for the Nittany Lions elevating the energy level since making the initial start. 

For the Nittany Lions though, the renewed energy has become a total team effort and the key to sustaining momentum for a full 40 minutes. 

"We've really been practicing that, and emphasizing that in practice," Stevens said.  "Just brining energy within ourselves on the bench, and on the court huddling and keeping each other engaged." 

Penn State's bench was also among the highlights from the win, contributing a season-high 39 points to aid the outstanding offensive showing.

A Chambers mentioned Monday, he was expecting a bit more from redshirt juniors Banks, Moore and Samuel. Together, the trio delivered, combining for 30 points, including a 6-for-6 showing from the free throw line and three triples from Banks. Moore highlighted the group with a season-high 10 points for his first double figure scoring outing of the season. He also grabbed seven boards and blocked two shots in the second half. 

"Julian [Moore] played great for us today and hopefully that will springboard him going into the Big Ten because we're going to need him," Chambers said.

Penn State will now turn its focus toward a challenging Big Ten conference slate, which begins in just six days. The Nittany Lions will open the 2016-17 Big Ten at home for just the second time in eight years welcoming Northwestern Tuesday, Dec. 27 at the Bryce Jordan Center.

"Northwestern is a heck of a team and no one is really talking about them which I'm really surprised about," Chambers said. "They have some really quality wins on their schedule, I think they are one of the better teams in our league this year and I'm going to give Chris [Collins] a lot of credit for that, but we will find out on the 27th."

More from Stevens and Carr below.

Energy Returns to Boost Penn State Confidence

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's basketball is set to wrap up its 2016-17 nonconference slate at home, welcoming Morgan State in a mid-week matchup Wednesday evening at the Bryce Jordan Center. 

Monday morning, Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers met with members of the media less than 24 hours after the Nittany Lions' dominant 92-76 win against St. John's in the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden. 

"We definitely took a step," Chambers said. "I know everyone is going to talk about the 13 made threes, but I thought our defense was really good. I thought we defended and rebounded and that really helped the 35-5 run. We were getting stops and making shots. It's definitely there. You saw a high level team, it's definitely in us." 

Penn State's 13 3-pointers are certainly not to be missed, as the Nittany Lions put up the most since logging 13 against NJIT in 2008. Penn State shot 57 percent from behind the arc as Shep Garner and Payton Banks led the way with at least five triples apiece, led by six from Garner.

Garner drained a pair of treys to spark the 35-5 scoring streak that carried the Nittany Lions into the half leading 52-29, marking the highest scoring opening half for Penn State since scoring 62 in the first half against VMI in 2006.

As Chambers noted, first halves have not been exactly a highlight for the Nittany Lions this season, but with the stress of final exam week lifted and a chance to step on to the court at the world's most famous arena, Penn State put together perhaps its best first half of the season.  

"That 20 minutes was the 20 minutes that we've all been waiting for," Chambers said. "We've all been hoping and expecting it to come through and it still might not be there on a daily basis but at least we say what it looks like and man it's a lot of fun."

Although the first half slumps are a little baffling to Chambers this season, he was certainly pleased with the turnaround he saw Sunday morning at Madison Square Garden. His early thoughts on the improvements though, all come down to juice, energy and the "old school Penn State basketball" he has been emphasizing throughout the last few weeks.

Part of Sunday's energy, included a spark from Nittany Lion freshman Tony Carr, who logged 13 points for his first back-to-back double figure scoring outing since opening the season with seven consecutive outings with double digits.  

"He brought energy, he brought juice, he went for a dunk," Chambers said. "Which I think the whole bench erupted because that's really not his style but he knew what the team needed, the team needed some energy and some fire."

Josh Reaves also noticed an increase in the patience and timing from the rookie point guard, who matched a career-high mark with six assists in the win against St. John's.

"Tony has an ability to play at his own pace, it can be fast, it can be slow, he can do whatever, and that definitely got us going," Reaves said. "I think he had six assists or something and he just waits, he waits for the right opportunity and he takes advantage of it." 

Carr isn't the only source of the renewed energy for the Nittany Lions, who put together one of their best offensive performances of the season.

"We have a lot more in us, we have a lot more energy, a lot more confidence," Reaves said. "The bench was crazy, everything on the court was crazy. We were doing everything we needed to do and it wasn't perfect but it was definitely a big step for us."

Stemming from his earlier media session last week, Chambers noted that the team practiced really well in the three sessions leading up to the St. John's game.

"Old school practices, we went back to early October-type practices," Chambers said. "Short, hard, intense and very tough."

Although pleased to see the Nittany Lions play well, Chambers also stressed that he'll still need to see the momentum carry over into Wednesday's matchup, especially with Big Ten play on the horizon.

"We need to continue to learn how to play Penn State basketball and to learn how to remain competitive and consistent throughout the 40 minutes," Chambers said.

Off The Bench
Penn State's bench contributed 21 points in the win against St. John's marking the third time this season the Nittany Lion bench has scored at least 20 points, and the first since the win against Georgia Tech. Although Chambers was pleased with the bench effort in Sunday's win, but he's still like to see more production, especially among the the likes of the redshirt junior trio featuring Payton Banks, Julian Moore and Terrence Samuel.

Payton Banks led the group with 17 points, including his five triples, shooting 5-for-9 from behind the arc.

"He came off the bench he shot the ball really well, he guarded really well, he's starting to rebound now," Chambers said.

Chambers also highlighted how pleased he was in the performance from "old school Terrence," who put together a solid showing in 21 minutes on the court.

"He played tough, physical basketball - diving, charges, hard fouls, man that was fun to watch," Chambers said.

Those "attitude plays," from Samuel are what starts to build momentum for the Nittany Lions, noted Garner.

"Charges, dives, stuff like that gets us going and gets the bench really into the game," Garner said. "Terrence does it a lot so we look for him to do things like that and that's another spark that he can give us. When attitude plays like that happen, we get going from things like that, we hit more shots and get more stops. Stuff like that starts runs for us."

A Quick Look at Morgan State
Penn State and Morgan State are set for the sixth all-time meeting come Wednesday night. The Nittany Lions own a 5-0 record in the all-time series against the Bears, squaring off for the first time since the 2014-15 season opener.

Morgan State enters the matchup at 3-7 on the year, coming off of a 68-66 loss to Wagner last week under the direction of 11th year head coach Todd Bozeman.

Leading scorer Tiwian Kendley is averaging 22.9 points per game having highlighted the year with a 40-point/10 rebound showing in a double overtime win against Manhattan earlier this season. Phillip Carr is atop the MEAC standings with 9.5 rebounds per game, having grabbed 13 rebounds twice this season. Carr is also second on the team in scoring, averaging 17.1 points per game.

Catch up with Reaves and Garner as Penn State preps for a 5 p.m. tipoff against Morgan State Wednesday at the Bryce Jordan Center. 

Penn State Focused on Details

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As Penn State men's basketball preps for its final two nonconference games of the 2016-17 season, Nittany Lion head coach Patrick Chambers met with members of the media in a midweek check in to preview the final few outings before conference play.

As exam week is winding down, Penn State men's basketball had a bit of an earlier exam schedule as Chambers noted that he suspected it might be a cause for the slow start in last weekend's near comeback against Pitt at the Prudential Center.

"I don't want to defend - I don't want to give these guys excuses but its exam week, it's the first time these young guys are going through it and we have our academic advisor with us, they're taking tests, they're doing papers the night before you play a team at 2:30 p.m.," Chambers said. "You know, I think they were overwhelmed a little bit and once they cleared their head and we got after it at halftime, they came out and played really good basketball."

With exams out of the way, Chambers noted that the focus in practice would return to habit forming, getting back to a foundation of team toughness, keying in on defense and rebounding.

"We could be really good, now, if we can put two halves together," Chambers said. 

The Nittany Lions have struggled at times to sustain momentum in a cohesive showing, most recently entering the locker room down 42-22 to the Panthers at the half before battling within five with less than two minutes to play.

For Chambers, the ability to compete for the entirety of both halves is exactly what he's looking for from his Nittany Lions through the last two nonconference games, but he'll need to see progress in defending and rebounding too.  

"If you play hard, it will clean up some of your weaknesses and then if you defend and rebound, that means you can get out and score some easy baskets," Chambers said. "Sometimes it can become a grind-out game and I never wanted this team to be grinding out anything, I want to get up and down the court and move the ball as quickly up the floor as possible but you can't do that if you don't defend and rebound and play hard." 

At 6-5 on the year heading in to Saturday's Holiday Festival against St. John's at Madison Square Garden, Chambers noted that he hasn't seen a bit of bad morale despite some early growing pains. 

"Morale is good," Chambers said." If the morale wasn't good, you don't come back and compete and cut it to nearly four with two minutes to go with the chance to get a good stop with the shot clock going down. Morale is good but we can't keep doing that to ourselves. It's been a common theme with this group and again, they're young, they don't realize that they have to play hard for every possession that they are on the court."

Penn State and St. John's will tipoff at 11 a.m. Sunday in the opening game of the Holiday Festival, with Rutgers and Fordham meeting in the later game. The Nittany Lion matchup with broadcast live on FS1.   

Chambers on Strength of Schedule
Penn State has certainly experienced the grind of a challenging nonconference slate, which opened fast and furious with no shortage of tough opponents both at home and on the road. That's exactly what Chambers had in mind when piecing together the schedule that will ultimately prepare his young Nittany Lions for a different kind of grind come December 27, when the Nittany Lions open the Big Ten conference slate against Northwestern at home in the Bryce Jordan Center.

"For us, our strength of schedule right now is 43," Chambers said. "I think we were 9-1 or 10-1 a couple of years ago and our strength of schedule was like 180 or something. So this is legit, this is real deal stuff. I learned my lesson a couple of years ago that if we're going for wins we're not going to be prepared for the Big Ten."

A Quick Look at St. John's
The Red Storm enters the matchup at 5-6 on the year, having most recently dropped a close 74-73 decision against LIU Brooklyn to put an end to a three-game winning streak. Making their 50th appearance in the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden, St. John's  has posted wins in each of its last six games in the event.

Chambers was quick to point out that he was keenly aware every member of the team on the floor is capable of connecting on a 3-pointer. St. John's is averaging nearly 10.5 triples per game, led by Shamorie Ponds, who has 35 on the year shooting nearly 45 percent from behind the arc. Averaging 17.4 points per game, Ponds is the seventh-highest scoring freshman nationally.

St. John's Kassoum Yakwe and Tariq Owens are among the nation's best shot blockers, pacing the Red Storm to a total of 82 blocks on the year which ranks second nationally and fourth with 7.5 blocks per game. Yakwe leads the team with 33 blocks on the year while Owens is second with 30.

In a matchup that features two of the youngest teams in the nation, Penn State and St. John's will meet for just the third time in program history and the first since the 2013 Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn.

Watkins Powers Penn State Comeback Attempt

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NEWARK, N.J. - Penn State men's basketball nearly completed a sizable comeback Saturday afternoon at the Prudential Center, rallying from behind by more than 20 points before Pitt clipped the attempt short.

Postgame Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers called it a tale of two halves.

"I'm not sure where we were in the first half, maybe the bus was late, but we showed up in the second half and competed, Chambers said. "We competed like a Penn State basketball team and it was great to see."

The first half was perhaps the complete opposite of Penn State basketball, as the Nittany Lions entered the locker room trailing 42-22, with Shep Garner and Payton Banks the lone players with at least five points, led by eight from Banks.

The early part of the second half didn't look much better as back-to-back Pitt triples sent the Panthers ahead by as many as 24, 50-26 with 16:50 remaining.

Point-by-point the Nittany Lions chipped away at the Pittsburgh advantage, dialing up the tempo and finding ways to finish in the paint.

With less than five minutes remaining, a pair of free throws from freshman Tony Carr trimmed the once double figure deficit down to single digits at 67-58. A Josh Reaves steal on the ensuing Pittsburgh possession sent a driving Banks to line for another pair of free throw with Pitt redshirt senior Chris Jones picking up his fourth foul of the day for the Panthers.   

Helped out by a 3-pointer from Garner, Penn State stretched its scoring streak into a 10-5 run, slashing the Pittsburgh advantage to as few as five, 71-66 with 1:50 left to play.

Nearly 20 seconds later, Pittsburgh senior Sheldon Jeter delivered for the Panthers, netting the team's 10th 3-pointer of the day to give the Panthers an eight-point advantage, 74-66.

Penn State went 4-4 from the free throw line in the next 1:10 but the Panthers went 6-8 during the stretch to build their lead back to double figures, 80-79. A late 3-pointer from Banks narrowed the margin to seven, 80-73, but time expired before the Nittany Lions could sustain any more momentum.

"I give Pitt a lot of credit their seniors made the big plays when they had to, especially late in the second half," Chambers said.

Penn State more than doubled its rebounds in the second half, collecting 28 boards, while also putting up 16 second chance points to finish with 28 points in the paint compared to six points in the paint in the opening half.

"Our energy changed in the second half," redshirt freshman Mike Watkins said. "We came out and we changed our energy, so we came out not worrying about the first half and just worrying about every possession."

Watkins made all the difference for the Nittany Lions in the second half, helping to engineer the comeback attempt with 13 points and 13 rebounds to finish the game with a team-high 17 points and 15 boards. With his second double-double of the season, Watkins' 15-rebound performance marks the first time a Nittany Lion has recorded 15 or more rebounds since Geary Claxton in 2006 against Purdue.

Carr also heated up in the second half, logging 12 points including a 4-4 showing from the free throw line. Carr tied for second on the team with 13 points, as Banks went 4-8 from the field and 3-6 from behind the arc to match the tally.

That's just what Chambers said he needed to see from his Nittany Lions heading into exams week though, as the Nittany Lions will have a full seven days to prepare for the Madison Square Garden Holiday Hoops Festival, where Penn State will take on St. John's Sunday, Dec. 18 in New York.  

"It has been like that all year long, we've played a really good half and somehow we have to get consistency from everybody to compete like that on every possession," Chambers said. 

Calling it a breakthrough for his younger Nittany Lions, Chambers is ready to get to work in practice looking ahead to the future.  

"We're going to learn from it," Chambers said. "Our younger guys are going to learn from this and we're going to get better for sure."

@GOPSUSPORTS

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