“In all the research you do as a coach, studying other coaches and championship-type situations, you find that all those teams combined talent with great defense. You’ve got to stop other teams to win.” - longtime NBA coach Pat Riley
While coach Patrick Chambers and his staff have no illusions of a Big Ten title sitting in their office this season, they know that defense, with a healthy dose of offense, will give the Nittany Lions a chance to be competitive in conference play.
"Where we're headed, it's a little bit of both," Chambers said of the priority of solid defense and effective offense. "But in the Big Ten, on the road, you need to defend; you need to get stops. I would say that we need to defend and rebound because there are great defensive teams that we're going face."
For Penn State, defensive struggles have plagued the team in the early going. Without the services of All-Big Ten guard Tim Frazier, the Nittany Lions have had to make due with what they've got. The results have been mixed as the Nittany Lions have held teams to roughly 46 percent shooting from the field, slightly better than the national average, while they have given up 38 percent shooting from beyond the arc, which ranks them well in the lower half of 3-point defenses nationally.
Like many team sports, communication is key, and it's something Chambers thinks started to click Sunday. The Nittany Lions helped hold New Hampshire to 22 percent shooting as the Wildcats hit 12-of-53 shots.
"I thought that today was the best job that we've ever done," Chambers said of on-court communication. "Our bench was awesome. I thought that we talked early and often. When a team starts to communicate and they start to listen to each other, that builds trust. I think what you saw today was a team building trust. I think that's why our defensive rotations were as good as they were."
It's something that budding start Jermaine Marshall noticed as well.
"I wouldn't say [that our defense] frazzled them," Marshall said. His five steals on Sunday tied a career high. "Because they continued to play hard and continued to play their game. I think that we just stuck to what we do and that was the key to the game. I think that we did a pretty good job."
With one game left before the Nittany Lions start Big Ten play, it will only be a matter of time until fans, coaches and players see how far they have truly come. Despite its defensive reputation, the Big Ten currently ranks atop the national scoring list with its teams averaging 73.2 points a game. Unfortunately for Chambers, the Nittany Lions have gone 2-4 in games where they have allowed 70 or more points.
"I think that we have a lot of work to do," Marshall said. "We're never going to be satisfied; never happy with where we are now. We have to continue to get better, continue to play hard, practice hard and continue to push each other. I know that Coach Chambers is going to continue to do that. Our goal is to be the best team we can be at the end of the season, and that's what we're shooting for."