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Penn State Basketball: Youth Gets Tough Introduction To Big Ten Play In Loss

by on December 28, 2016 2:00 PM

It's going to be a new kind of coaching job for Pat Chambers in perhaps the most pivotal season of his tenure.

With just over four minutes to go Penn State found itself down far too many points to make a true comeback. The Nittany Lions would get within nine after trailing by more than 20, but in reality it was never even that close. Northwestern looked the part of a Big Ten team. They made Penn State pay for its mistakes, made shots, played physically on the glass and made smart decisions with the ball.

It was a team that started three multi-year Big Ten veterans. Across the court only two of Penn State's starting five had ever played in a Big Ten game.

So with four minutes to go Chambers yelled to heralded freshman Tony Carr to keep playing, to keep trying hard. Carr, perhaps simply tired, just looked back at Chambers and nodded.

"I kind of know where Pat is at," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said after the game. "In my second year I was starting McIntosh and Law and those guys as freshmen, they are good players, but they had to learn what Big Ten ball is all about. The future is in really good hands here. I love the talent of their young players, they play hard."

"They are going to get it, they are going to get it, but certainly we talked about that coming into the game. We have to use our experience now to our advantage. We do have some older guys that have been around in those wars and played in those games and that’s got to be an advantage in a game like this and I thought we approached really well early."

The challenge for Chambers and Penn State now isn't the talent, the Nittany Lions are talented, but they are plagued with the predictable up and down levels of performance. None of Penn State's newest faces are simply shooters, they are by in large supremely athletic and have spent much of their high school career being more athletic than everyone else. It's not a bad way to win basketball games, but in a physically demanding conference like the Big Ten, it will only get you so far, you still have to generate a grit and toughness.

For the past several years Chambers' teams have had that grit, maybe because middle of the pack players are used to losing and know that winning doesn't come easily. For nearly all of Penn State's highly touted freshmen, they've lost only a handful of games, it's a game within the game to get used to and to embrace that marathon.

"Keep competing, keep playing hard, and keep playing with energy," Chambers said after the game. "Freshman don’t understand that. As a freshman, (Carr) is not used to losing very often. So, to be down 20 at that point, it’s very new to him. It’s very new to Lamar Stevens, and it’s extremely new to Mike Watkins. So, I’m just trying to teach these guys to keep playing, develop the good habit, and let’s win this four-minute segment; and, they did. So,for me, that was a major breakthrough."

To its credit Northwestern appears poised for its first ever NCAA bid already and a Big Ten challenger at that, so in a few months a struggling Big Ten opening performance may not seem so bad. But on Tuesday night it was a clear reminder to everyone that Penn State still has work left to do and lessons to be learned.

"I just tell them to keep their head up, no matter what is going to happen," Josh Reaves said after the game. "We have a long season ahead of us. It is just one game. Unfortunately, it was home and it was the season-opener for the Big Ten. It is a long season and we have a lot of time to make adjustments and I think that we will be alright. We’ll bounce back."

If they do then a few early season losses will just be part of the learning curve. If they don't, it may be a long season for all the wrong reasons.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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