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"We could've easily let that one slip away but we made the necessary plays down the stretch to find success and I'm really proud of them," head coach Patrick Chambers said.
Although entering Saturday afternoon's matchup on a three-game skid, the Nittany Lions found a way to reignite the energy from the sound of the first whistle, earning Penn State's fourth January victory for the first time in the Chambers era.
"That's the first time we've done that in my six years here," Chambers said. "To be able to get to 4-5 [in the Big Ten] and creep up the standings a little bit is a credit to these kids and the upperclassmen that kept competing."
Firsts seem to be a little bit of a theme for the Nittany Lions on Coaches vs. Cancer day as more than 10,000 filled the Bryce Jordan Center, including former players in honor of alumni day.
In the first half, Penn State shot out to the early advantage as veteran leaders Shep Garner and Payton Banks came alive from the 3-point line, knocking down a trio of triples. Penn State cruised to halftime, with a last-second bucket from freshman Tony Carr bolstering the advantage to as many as 20 points, 45-25.
Heading into the locker room, Penn State was clicking, shooting 60 percent from the field to match its best first half since the Michigan State win at the Palestra in early January.
As Chambers and his Nittany Lions have noted all season though, the offensive momentum, the lead and the shooting clip aren't exactly the focus, but rather, it's what's happening defensively that leads to the offensive success.
In the locker room at halftime though, the message was keeping the consistency alive, playing out the full 40 minutes.
"We did it in non-conference when it was coming down the stretch at St. Johns, Wright State, and Morgan State," Chambers said. "I feel like we got to that goal, and in the Big Ten, it's a whole other animal."
True to his note, it was Illinois that came out in the second half looking like a whole other animal.
"Coach [Chambers] was telling us they're one of the toughest teams in the league, so just like us, we usually have a lot of fight, and we knew they were going to try to make a run," Banks said.
With Penn State leading by as many as 21 five minutes into the second half, Illinois adjustments led to a 28-10 run that narrowed the Nittany Lion advantage to as few as three.
Banks looked to double the lead with his fourth 3-pointer of the day, but Illinois answered right back with another triple to trim the gap back to three, 65-62 with less than two minutes to play in the game.
Next it was Garner who went 4-for-4 from the free throw line, in the final few minutes of play, drawing the Illinois charge to send him to the charity stripe to keep Penn State ahead by five with eight seconds to play, 69-64.
"Shep really set the tone to make his free throws down the stretch there, that shows where his head is right now," Chambers said. "I think we see an emerging leader. He's definitely back."
Garner led the team with 18 points, including four 3-pointers. Although quieter than usual across the last few games, Garner showed glimpses of settling back into a rhythm with three triples in Tuesday's trip to Wisconsin.
That's no reason to be concerned for Garner though, who simply hit the gym and continued to listen to his teammates to break free from the slump.
"My teammates always tell me to shoot," Garner said. "They've been telling me to shoot when I'm open, so that just gave me a little bit of confidence coming into the game."
Along with Garner though, Banks finished second on the team with 17 points, shooting 5-for-8 from the field despite being limited to just one three in the second half.
"I think they did a really good job finding me in transition," Banks said. "That's where I like finding a lot of my threes."
Aside from the veteran leadership though, curious case of the Nittany Lion dunks came back to help Penn State in the win.
In each of Penn State's Big Ten wins this season the Nittany Lions have posted at least five dunks, with PSU registering five in the win against the Illini.
For Garner, the dunks are a sign that the energy is back.
"Dunks definitely get me excited, because I'm not the most athletic person," Garner said. "I like to see dunks a lot. That's my thing. I like to give up passes for dunks."
For Chambers though, he would prefer it a little differently."I wish stops and charges and big-time grown-man rebounds that are above the rim, I wish those would get us going instead of dunks," Chambers said. "We need juice, we need energy, we need that fire. Especially when you're going through a grueling 10 minutes."
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.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In a second consecutive gritty
comeback effort, Penn State men's basketball showcased its toughness once again
Wednesday evening. Battling back from behind, the Nittany Lions ultimately came
up short though, in a 78-75 loss to Indiana at the final buzzer.
As head coach Patrick Chambers entered the postgame media room, he noted that it was Penn State who hurt Penn State in the bitter loss, one that lacked execution of the the little things.
Entering the matchup, Penn State had hit 76 percent of its free throw attempts on the year, a mark which ranked 21st in the Division I standings and third in the conference.
Among those little things was a bit of an off night from the charity stripe for the Nittany Lions.
Those foul shooting woes did disappear in the final seconds of the game though, as Penn State's top free throw man freshman Lamar Stevens, sank a pair of crucial attempts to tie the score, 75-75 with four second left in the game, sending the crowd of 7,818 into hysteria.
As fellow freshman Tony Carr had done just one game prior, there was nothing but confidence in his mind when Stevens stepped up to the line.
"I told him to just trust in himself and to shoot the same shot, don't put any extra pressure on yourself, just go up there and go through the same routine and just knock them down," Carr said.
In a roller coaster evening at the Bryce Jordan Center, the Nittany Lions shot out to a nearly double digit lead early in the game before the Hoosiers came storming back.
Penn State opened the game with all six points of its scoring coming from junior Julian Moore before an emphatic dunk from Stevens lifted the Nittany Lions ahead by one, 8-7. Following the Stevens jam, Penn State used a 7-1 run to pull ahead by as many as seven, 15-8 with 12:47 remaining in the first half.
The Hoosiers quickly found their way back within one twice more though, answering back with a 9-3 stretch to make it 18-17. Penn State leading shot blocker and rebounder Mike Watkins also picked up a pair of fouls in the streak.
As the fouls continued to pile up for the Nittany Lions in the first half, Indiana slid ahead by two before junior Shep Garner put away a 3-pointer to give Penn State the edge, 21-20.
Penn State could not sustain its momentum though, trading points until Indiana took off with the lead for good, leading 44-37 by halftime before stretching the lead to double figures nearly seven minutes into the second half.
As expected, Penn State regrouped and responded in the second half, wiping away a 14-point Indiana lead with a signature second-half effort.
Staring down a double-digit deficit is no new challenge for the Nittany Lions, as a mere days earlier Penn State used a second-half charge to rally from behind by as many as 14 before topping then-No. 24 Minnesota 52-50.
"We have been there before being down double-digits in games and we know we have what it takes to fight back and get back into the game so we rely on our defense and rebounding and making them turn the ball over a little bit and we got back in it," Garner said.
Garner, who was limited to just three points in the opening frame, came alive in the second half, scoring 12 points including a 3-for-4 mark from 3-point range to finish second on the team with 15 points.
Perhaps no triple was bigger than his final one of the night, where he calmly pulled up past a diving Blackmon to knock down a 3-pointer to lift Penn State within two, 75-73 with 39 seconds on the clock.
Like a popped balloon, the energy and enthusiasm of yet another comeback from down by 10+ was quickly vanquished, as Indiana scrambled to get off a long contested 3-pointer for the win at the final blare of the horn.
"It is very tough especially when you lose on a shot like that," Carr said. "You fight so hard to get back into the game and you just give all your effort and then you lose on a heartbreaking shot like that."
Despite the highs, the lows, the little things and even the deficits, Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers was nothing short of proud of his team postgame.
"They showed some guts, they responded in huddles and they didn't quit battling," Chambers said. "It was a physical and tough game but overall I think that the two teams played as tough as I have seen all year."
All part of the Penn State process this year, the Nittany Lions will have to quickly reset and turn their attention toward their second of three ranked opponents in its current four-game stretch.
"Tomorrow we will watch film, get some shooting in and then we will start preparing for Purdue," Chambers said. "This is a long season, a process, so we cannot dwell on this we will just have to keep moving forward."
Penn State travels to Purdue to take on the Boilermakers Saturday, Jan. 21 at noon ET in West Lafayette, Indiana.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State head coach Patrick
Chambers and Nittany Lions Payton Banks and Julian Moore took time to meet with
members of the media Monday afternoon. Last week, Penn State knocked off
then-No. 24 Minnesota but will now shift the focus toward a midweek matchup
against Indiana Wednesday at home.
Since earning a spot in the starting lineup against Rutgers, Julian Moore has continued to develop throughout the year, emerging as a more of a veteran presence on the court for the Nittany Lions.
"I think having him start has given him a little bit of an edge, a little bit of confidence," Chambers said. "I see a different kid, shoulders back, a very confident young man who knows what he's doing."
While Chambers praised Moore for his defensive improvement this year, Moore has also been key in bringing Nittany Lions to their feet on a few recent occasions with a few highlight reel-worthy dunks. Tied for the second-most dunks on the team, Moore has logged at least two jams twice since entering the starting lineup, including a pair in the most recent win against the Golden Gophers.
Making the most of his opportunities this season, Moore has also embraced more of a leadership role, especially when it comes to bringing along redshirt freshman Mike Watkins, who is coming off of his second Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor following a double-double (15 points, 15 rebounds).
"I think Julian has really bought in in the month of January to, I'm going to defend, I'm going to rebound and when my opportunities come, I'm going to make the most of it and I'm going to keep working with Mike in practice, go at him hard, help him in drills, help him in film," Chamber said. Those two working in combination, collaborating together makes a good big man for us."
The "buy in" for Moore began after the road-loss to Northwestern, when Chambers brought Moore into his office. Seemingly not difficult to guess, Chambers' message was simple -defending and rebounding would be the key to keeping Moore on the floor, placing the team in position for success.
"After that I've just tried to focus on it a lot more and we're on the up right now, so it's been good," Moore said.
Although Moore wasn't one to talk much about an increase in his defensive physicality this year, teammate Payton Banks opened up about the improvement.
"I think when we have Julian in the games that he has been playing, we're 100 times better and especially when Mike [Watkins] comes in, his game speaks for itself, but when we have him going in, we're taking that to another level so I definitely think he has gone above and beyond," Banks said.
More from Chambers on Moore below.
Check out a few more takeaways from the media session.
Focused on Penn State Basketball
As Chambers noted last week, the landscape of the Big Ten conference is wild this year. Improving to 3-2 in the conference standings following the thrilling comeback victory against the Golden Gophers, the Nittany Lions are currently tied for fifth in the Big Ten standings with Purdue and Nebraska. The last time Penn State opened the league slate 3-2 dates back tot he 2010-11 season, marking a first for the program under Chambers' leadership.
Penn State isn't paying attention to any additional noise regarding who it's played or who it still has yet to play. Rather, the focus is internal and as Chambers has said throughout the season, targeted at doing simple better.
"I just have us focused on getting better every single day," Chambers said. "We're a good basketball team, but we haven't earned anybody's respect yet. Non-conference would back that opinion up, so we have to continue to do it, today in practice we need to do it, film session, tomorrow we need to do it in practice and then Wednesday we need to compete at a very high level against a good basketball team."
Looking at Indiana
At 12-6 on the year and 2-3 in Big Ten outings, Indiana heads into Wednesday's matchup coming off a 76-57 win at home against Rutgers last weekend. The Hoosiers are atop the conference standings in scoring averaging nearly 80 points per game, led by junior James Blackmon Jr., who leads a total of four double-figure scorers with 17.5 points per game and 17.0 points per game in league games. Indiana also presents challenges from behind the arc leading the conference in 3-point field goal percentage (44.3) and nearly 10 triples per game. Blackmon is leading the team with 52 3-pointers on the year.
Defensively, the Hoosiers are fifth nationally with a +10.9 rebounding margin and eighth in rebounding, averaging 41.4 boards per game. Four Hoosiers on the roster are currently averaging at least five rebounds per game, led by 6.9 per outing from Thomas Bryant.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday with live coverage on the Big Ten Network featuring Jeff Levering and Stephen Bardo on the call.
More from Banks and Moore below.
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.
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.
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.
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