Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions Impressive In 79-72 Victory Over La Salle
Before the season ever starts, coaches always say that their team is shooting the ball well. Reporters and fans want to see it for themselves before they believe it.
And as Penn State forward Ross Travis rose up in front of his bench and fired in a three for the first points of the second half on Tuesday night, I laughed to -- and at -- myself, having been critical of Travis' sometimes errant three point shot and his coach's willingness to let him take it. A brief flash of an earlier conversation with Penn State coach Pat Chambers came to mind and quickly vanished as the game continued on.
"I thought of you when he hit that shot," I mentioned in passing to Chambers after the game.
"You know what, I thought of you" Chambers said smiling, mostly a playful jab coupled with a friendly reminder as to why he was being asked the question and why I wasn't.
To his credit, Chambers' message for the better part of a month and a half has been that his team can shoot the ball.
And so far he has been right.
This season, unlike most, the Nittany Lions haven't had to rely on a single player to carry the load. Certainly, Penn State looks to fifth year senior guard Tim Frazier to keep the offense pointed in the right direction, but the burden is no longer his to carry alone.
This couldn't have been any more apparent than on Tuesday night. All five Nittany Lion starters finished the game in double figures, upending annual A10 conference power and 2012 Sweet 16 qualifier, La Salle 79-72.
Surprisingly, Frazier was the last of Penn State's starting five to reach the 10 point threshold as the Nittany Lions fell a free throw short of collectively breaking the 80 point barrier for the third straight game. The returning senior's major contribution; 11 assists and a single turnover as the Texas native served up big time scoring chances to his teammates all night long.
Since arriving in State College, Frazier has always looked to pass, but those passes have not always ended in assists. If the Nittany Lions continue to shoot the ball as well as they have in their last three games, Chambers may no longer need to convince people that his team can score.
Similarly, what was perhaps most impressive about Penn State's win on Tuesday night was the fact that the Nittany Lions' best players on the court, were not their "best players" on paper.
Donovon Jack, Ross Travis, and Brandon Taylor were all stellar, contributing a total of 46 points and 20 rebounds, while turning the ball over only three times.
Frazier and junior DJ Newbill were both strong, but they've both had better games. The duo added 30 points to the total but shot 10-of-27 from the field in the process. Simply put, Penn State scored 79 points in a game where the two players the team often relieson the most shot 37-percent from the floor. That's a luxury not often found within the walls of the Jordan Center. It was the consistent efforts of the entire team that carried Penn State to victory on Tuesday.
"To be able to stand there and, you know our offense is made for a lot of pick and rolls and getting guys open. For these guys to be able to knock down threes, it clears up a lot of space especially for myself," Frazier said Tuesday. "And it just makes us harder to guard. It's harder for teams to guard us because not only do they have to stop the ball, but they also have to worry about these guys popping and rolling for threes. So, it makes the game easier and it just keeps us going on a roll."
Penn State's performance on Tuesday was also highlighted by an unwillingness to let the game's inevitable runs dictate the result of the contest. La Salle led by seven in the mid stages of the first half, a lead that could have easily swelled or evaporated in a matter of seconds. It did the latter as Penn State took the lead again and found itself down just two at the break.
In the second half, Penn State survived a span of scoreless play but a DJ Newbill basket opened up a 9-0 run and the Nittany Lions never looked back. It wasn't that Penn State truly outplayed La Salle all night. The Nittany Lions played smarter and harder when they had a chance to control the final stages of the game. Penn State threw the first punch and never got knocked on its heels thanks to timely rebounds and baskets. The Nittany Lions did the little things right and came away with a big victory.
"I told our guys before the game that they would go on a run and we would go on a run, don't worry about it, just keep playing Penn State basketball, we're going to be fine." Chambers said after the game. "I felt like they believed it and they had faith in it. In the timeouts it was all about attitude and to keep playing hard and to win this possession, great stuff. It wasn't coming from me -- it was coming from them. That's when you know your chemistry is getting where you want it to be."
"Those guys like to play with each other. We had our starters back in there and they played hard every single possession. As you can see from our assists we really shared the basketball and sometimes they were on the floor scrambling and I think that was the difference. On defense we all did our job. We got in the gaps, we built a wall, we gang rebounded, which was great to see."
It's too early to make broad predictions for a team only four games into its season and still far removed from the biggest games of the year. But the Nittany Lions passed the eye test on Tuesday night and for the first time Penn State looked like the team Chambers has wanted to see since he stepped foot on campus.
Consistency is key and every team has good and bad games. But special seasons have to start someplace, and every time Penn State wins Chambers is thinking of the people who said they couldn't.