Moral Victories Not Enough for Chambers

With No. 5 Indiana coming to town, the Penn State coach is not content with simply playing well. He's looking for wins in the Big Ten.

There may not be crying in baseball. But there is in basketball.

At least there was in the Penn State locker room after the Nittany Lions dropped their Big Ten opener at Wisconsin Thursday, 60-51. PSU entered the game as an 18-point underdog and yet overcame a double-digit second-half deficit to draw within three points with 1:15 remaining.

The Badgers pulled away late as the Lions did not hit a shot the rest of the way, leaving PSU -- a team many thought might not win a single game in the powerful Big Ten when All-Conference guard Tim Frazier was lost to a ruptured Achilles' tendon in November -- wondering what might have been.

“There were guys crying,” Chambers said. “To me, that's a good thing. … I think we let one get away. We have to learn.”

Frazier was injured in what turned out to be a blowout loss to Akron in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament Nov. 18. With no other natural point guard on the roster, State seemed to be in a dire situation. But the Lions closed out their non-conference schedule with six wins in eight games, including four straight victories heading into league play.

Sure, that stretch of opponents did not feature anyone with enough talent to make serious noise in a conference as strong as the Big Ten. But PSU transfer guard D.J. Newbill was able to use the time to acclimate himself to the point. And the team as a whole got used to playing without Frazier, who led State in scoring, assists, rebounds and steals last season.

The Lions (8-5, 0-1) sure did not play like a team lacking for confidence at Wisconsin's Kohl Center, which ranks among the toughest home venues in the Big Ten. The 6-foot-4 Newbill best exemplified that with a pair of monster dunks over the Badger front line.

So the blowout most anticipated -- and which seemed to be unfolding when PSU trailed by 14 early in the second half -- never happened. But that was of little solace for Chambers.

“We were disappointed,” he said. “Any time you lose, there's hurt. The reason you hurt is because you work so hard. You put all you have into something and you fail.”

The good news is that in the Big Ten this year, there is always a shot at redemption right around the corner. There are currently six conference teams ranked in the top 18 of both major polls. That includes preseason No. 1 Indiana, which now checks in at No. 5.

The Hoosiers (13-1, 1-0) take on Penn State at the Jordan Center Monday night (7 p.m., BTN). Asked if his squad viewed the game against the fifth-ranked opponent as an opportunity, Chambers wasted no time responding.

“It's a great opportunity because Indiana is the next game on the schedule, not because they're No. 5,” he said. “Indiana is a good team. They're the next team on the schedule. We have to go out and compete and play Penn State basketball to the best of our ability and give ourselves a chance to win. That's got to be our mentality.”


• Chambers took exception to PSU's lack of free throws in the Wisconsin loss. The Lions had one attempt (and missed it). The Badgers were 13 of 26 from the stripe. Chambers said he had never been involved in a game where a team attempted only one free throw. “That's ridiculous. … You can't tell me for 40 minutes we didn't get fouled.”

• Chambers downplayed Newbill's two big dunks, the first of which made ESPN's Top 10 Plays (at No. 4). “It's two points,” he said. But as he continued to talk, he admitted the play was a positive sign. “That's a good, aggressive, strong take,” he said. “That's what we need. Even the announcers (said it). People know Penn State's coming.”

• Chambers is hoping to get a good crowd for Monday night's game. Last season when Indiana visited, there were a lot of Hoosier fans in the BJC. Chambers is depending on the PSU students, who have just returned from semester break, to make an impact. “The students just had a few weeks off,” he said. “They should be refreshed and ready to go.”

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