UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After just three days off, Penn State men's basketball is set to return to the court, hosting George Mason Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. in the Bryce Jordan Center.
Monday afternoon, head coach Patrick Chambers met with members of the media to preview the matchup, while also wrapping up Saturday's win against Wright State.
Among positives from veteran leaders and newcomers, Chambers made a quick note regarding contributions from Mike Watkins, especially surrounding his surging shot blocking ability.
Entering the week, Penn State is ranked fourth nationally and first in the conference with 57 blocks, with Watkins accounting for 33 of the team's total. With at least two blocks in every game this season, Watkins logged a career-high eight blocks in the win against Wright State. The sixth-highest total in single game in program history, Watkins' eight blocks are the most since Calvin Booth had nine in 1999.
"He's doing a really good job protecting the rim," Chambers said. "We're pressuring the ball a little bit more and he's doing a good job of waiting and waiting - and he gets off the floor really quick. He has great hands and I think that really helps him."
Individually, Watkins is ranked fourth nationally and atop the Big Ten standings with 3.67 blocks per game.
Watkins' timelessness has made all the difference, giving those around him an added confidence boost.
"You might miss an assignment or get blown by but you know Mike is behind you covering the basket," Tony Carr said.
Not surprised by his impressive total this year, Carr can recall some uneasiness heading into high school matchups against Watkins.
"Even back in high school I used to hate playing against Mike just knowing that he's a great shot blocker and that always messes with the guard," Carr said.
On the other side of things, Chambers noted that turnovers have become a point of emphasis for the Nittany Lions.
"Live ball turnovers are a killer right now and offensive rebounding, we've got to do a better job," Chambers said. "Even though there's dead ball rebounding, I still feel like we're giving them another possession that we can't afford."
In the early part of a season where the framework surrounds a more up-tempo pace offensively, the key to limiting turnovers simply involves keeping true to simple, solid and efficient play, not trying to make everything on the highlight reel as Chambers puts it.
It's all part of the growing process for the Nittany Lions though, as they prepare to play their 10th game in nearly a month on a 4-0 winning streak for the first time since the early part of last year's nonconference slate (Nov. 24-Dec. 5).
"This is such an amazing process," Chambers said. "Where we started that first game on a Friday to where we are now. It has flown by, but we've definitely gotten better."
Quick Look at the Patriots
Both Penn State and George Mason will put a pair of winning streaks on the line Wednesday. The Nittany Lions have won their last four straight, while the Patriots have each of their last five, most recently taking down Mercer, 79-68 at home.
Three reached double digits for the Patriots in the win against Mercer led by 21 points from leading scorer Marquise Moore, who's averaging 17.3 points per game. Moore added 12 rebounds for his fifth double-double through 10 games. Otis Livingston II finished second on the team with 17 points, including a 4-for-4 showing from the free throw line. Livingston II boasts a .958 clip from the charity stripe, at 23-for-24 on the year, which ranks seventh nationally.
Following Wednesday's game, Penn State will hit the road, traveling to Newark, New Jersey to take on Pittsburgh in the inaugural Never Forget Tribute Classic Saturday, Dec. 10 at the Prudential Center. The double header event will feature Notre Dame and 2016 NCAA national champion Villanova in the first matchup of the day. The Nittany Lions and the Panthers will meet for the 146th time in program history in the first outing between the two teams since 2013. Pitt is out to a 6-2 start this season, set to host Buffalo Wednesday, Dec. 7.
On The Quote Board
Carr said that a major adjustment in his transition from high school to Penn State has been the addition of strength training, noting that he wasn't really one for weight training in high school. When asked to compare the strength training of Roman Catholic teammate Lamar Stevens, Carr was all smiles.
"To be honest I don't know how his body got like that," Carr said. "I feel like he just woke up one day and he just looked like the Hulk or somebody, he definitely touched more weights than me in high school."
More from Carr below.