Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions Still Searching For Victory As Nebraska Comes To Town
Tuesday afternoon Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers walked across the floor of the Bryce Jordan Center practice gym about 30 minutes before his team was scheduled to hit the floor.
At the other end of the court forward Brandon Taylor was already warming up, the lone player already working as Chambers went to meet with him.
In many ways, Taylor is a microcosm of Penn State's season. Early in the year the Philadelphia native was an offensive threat from long range, hitting two or more shots from three point range on eight different occasions. His stroke was smooth, his shots were pure. Penn State was scoring 70 or more points without much effort. This was what fans had expected from the 2013 edition of Penn State basketball.
But in Big Ten play Taylor has struggled to find his range, having made a three in only half of Penn State's six conference games this season. The normally reliable scorer has managed 9 points over the last three games and has seen his minutes decrease as freshman Geno Thorpe took over his spot in the starting five for a handful of contests.
Penn State's struggles -- three losses by three or fewer points -- haven't come down to Brandon Taylor, but his sudden 180 has been the Nittany Lions' season in a nutshell. Penn State is playing well, but against some of the nation's top teams the margin for error is small.
Three mistakes may not matter out of conference, but one mistake at the wrong time can cost you the game. As the Nittany Lions found out against Purdue, losing doesn't have to take much time off the clock. A free throw sealing the deal with just over one second to play costing the Nittany Lions the game.
So as Chambers works with Taylor before practice on Tuesday, the third year head coach is still looking for something, anything, to get his team over the hump. As Taylor rises in the air and releases a shot, Chambers watches as if the answer to his team's woes can be found in those split seconds. Chambers claps after each shot like he always does, giving Taylor some pointers and positive reinforcement. Each additional shot is eyed just as intently as the last.
"Tim and DJ played at an extremely high level," Chambers said of their double-doubles against Purdue. "We just need someone else to step up. And they're coming. Donovon Jack is playing really, really good basketball and I played him at some small forward and he did some good things."
"We've just got to to continue.." Chambers said trailing off every so slightly. "I know it sounds terrible but we just have to continue to get better we have to win those possessions and we're not doing that right now."
"I've never seen anything like this, I've never seen anything like this. But I've got to continue to stay positive. We're doing good things to stay on that hump, it just takes one play, one possession. We've just got to keep fighting. I'm telling you, this is a good team and I think we're proving it. We see progress, you may not be we do. We've got to clean up the last couple minutes of the game."
"We just need a third guy, fourth guy, to step up and make that big shot. We need more guys to step up."
Chambers probably hasn't seen anything like this. Penn State struggled -- understandably -- without Frazier last season, but in 2013 the Nittany Lions are less than a minute from being a 3-3 team in the nation's toughest conference. If there was ever a season of "What if" this is the one.
At the end of the day, no matter how perplexing, Penn State is 0-6 in the conference.
"I'm not happy we're 0-6, tell them that," Chambers says about disappointment for fans around the program. "We should be 3-3 but unfortunately that's not reality and I'm dealing in reality. We have to continue to get better and hopefully we can finish strong like we have every year since I've been here."
There is little doubt Penn State is playing the best statistical basketball of the Chambers' era. We'll see if that translates into wins over the final stretch of the schedule. Until then, Chambers will continue to search for that last little push to get the Nittany Lions over the edge.
"Let's go," Chambers said as the players took their seats for Nebraska film study.
And the grind continues. Penn State faces the Cornhuskers on Thursday night at 8:00 PM.