UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When Penn State's go-to energy guy Josh Reaves checks in to hit the court, the Nittany Lions typically find their spark. Last Saturday at then-No. 21 Purdue, Penn State had trouble generating its even its more recent second-half spark.
Penn State's last few conference outings have been a bit riding roller coaster-like, as the Nittany Lions have battled back from double-digit deficits on multiple occasions to either arrive right within, or even pull off the comeback, as demonstrated against the Golden Gophers fewer than 10 days ago.
On the road at Purdue though, something was missing as Chambers noted Monday afternoon that the much needed spark outside of a brief push, surprisingly didn't strike.
"I thought we would compete a lot more than we did," Chambers said. "I was a little surprised at that because these kids, they find a way typically to get it back - which we did, 24-20, but we never got it close again, which is disappointing."
With just a day to prep for No. 15 Wisconsin, Chambers will not be harping on the Purdue setback, rather turning the focus toward Penn State's response, the counter punch.
"I think that's what I want to see most," Chambers said. "I think we struggled as group. I want to see that punch, I want to see that response, I want to see that we're going to keep competing at a high level and I didn't really see it that much."
As the grind of the Big Ten slate continues to roll along, for Chambers, staying dialed in and focused isn't nearly as much of a physical challenge as it is a mental hurdle, especially for a younger squad experiencing nearly everything for the first time.
"Mentality is really 85 to 90 percent when you hit late January, February," Chambers said. "You have to push through and as freshmen, this is all very new to them, this level of competition."
The January, February mental grind is certainly familiar to Reaves though, as he can recall dealing with it just a year ago.
"You kind of learn from it just being in so many games," Reaves said. "Last year BT [Brandon Taylor] really helped me through it and definitely JD [Jordan Dickerson]. BT just pulled me aside and just told me that you're not going to have your best game every game and you're not going have the energy that you had the last game because we're going to be so tired and exhausted from everything that we're doing and how hard we play and you just have to tough it up and play basketball."
Now it will be on Reaves and the rest of the Nittany Lion leaders to reignite the spark that helped guide the Nittany Lions to a 3-1 mark in conference play in the first half of the month of January.
For Chambers the key to bringing back the energy all begins with movement, and as Reaves noted, a players-only film review after Purdue didn't just reveal an uncharacteristically low level of competition for the Nittany Lions. For Reaves, it will be defense that sets the tone for better offensive movement, triggered by purpose and a greater sense of urgency.
Penn State is set for a 9 p.m. ET tipoff at Wisconsin Tuesday night with live coverage on the Big Ten Network featuring Brian Anderson and Seth Davis on the call.
What About Wisconsin
Wisconsin enters the matchup atop the Big Ten standings fresh off of a 78-76 overtime win at Minnesota Saturday. At 16-3 on the year and 5-1 in conference play, the Badgers have put together an unblemished 11-0 mark at home in the Kohl Center this season, with the only league loss of the season coming on the road at then-No. 20 Purdue on January 8.
With wins in 12 of their last 13 games, Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ have been key components of the Badger success. In the last 13 games, Hayes is averaging 15.5 ppg, at a nearly 52 percent shooting clip. Contributing 13.6 ppg on the year, Happ is coming off of stellar performance against the Golden Gophers, where he led the team with 28 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and five blocks to earn Co-Big Ten Player of the Week honors.
Outside of the pair of surging Wisconsin starters, Chambers also noted that with a team that's senior led and experienced, the Badger bench can be just as potent as its starting five.
"They have a good group," Chambers said. "What's different from this group, is that I like their bench a lot, they have speed, they have some quickness."
More from Chambers on the Badgers below.
Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and
Penn State's road trip to Wisconsin followed by its home outing against Illinois Saturday are both part of Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers Awareness week. A cause that hits close to home for Chambers, the Nittany Lions have been active supporters of the nationwide event each year. Encompassing coaches from around the country, staffs throughout the week will pair sneakers with their suits in honor of the event, which raises awareness regarding the importance of nutrition and physical activity in lowering cancer risks.
"We have to remember what's important and definitely raising awareness and raising money - I lost my brother obviously, and it has been difficult for everybody," Chambers said. "As long as we can bring it to that forefront this week, we're doing our part in raising that type of awareness."
Penn State will also lace up with yellow shoelaces in honor of Princess Lacey's Laces, in memory of 8-year-old Lacey Holsworth, a Michigan State basketball fan who passed away in 2014.
More from Chambers on Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers Awareness week below.