While dealing with teams that were generally offensively challenged in his first four seasons at Penn State, coach Pat Chambers would often preach that the Nittany Lions had a chance to overcome any such deficiencies with two things they could always control — effort and defense.
Well, if its last two games were any indication, PSU is going to have to re-learn how to handle the defensive part of that equation.
In Tuesday’s 86-74 loss to Radford at the Jordan Center, the Lions allowed the Highlanders to:
• Shoot 62 percent from the floor in the second half. This after allowing Duquesne to hit 61 percent of its shots in the final half in last Friday’s blowout loss in Pittsburgh.
• Make 12 of 22 3-pointers (54.5 percent). This after allowing the Dukes to make 17 of 34 triples.
• Achieve season-highs in points, field-goal percentage (56.4), 3-point field-goal percentage (54.5) and 3-pointers made (12).
Asked how many games PSU (2-2) can expect to win if it continues to play defense the way it did the last two games, Chambers admitted, “Not many.”
After the Radford loss, he didn’t seem to have a clear idea about what was wrong — other than some of his players are young.
“I would say we have a lot of work to do — a lot on the zone,” Chambers said. “I’m a defensive coach and our man-to-man defense has a lot of holes right now. We are a step slow, so somehow we are going to have to simplify and continue on this path because we do have some talent.
“I think we are a step slow, there is no doubt about it,” he added. “Our freshmen and our sophomores are a step slow at getting over ball screens and helping when we are supposed to help in a two-man game — just very little things that we are making … minor mistakes.”
But there is nothing minor about the ramifications of the lousy defense.
“The name of the game is defense,” said senior forward Brandon Taylor, who scored 15 points but was limited to 25 minutes due to foul trouble against Radford. “That’s what our stamp is. We’ve got to do a better job there.”
EMOTIONAL LOCKER ROOM
Chambers said there was not a “dry eye” in the PSU locker room following the second straight loss. Which seemed kind of odd. The Radford game was ugly, sure, but nothing to cry about. He was later asked to clarify the statement.
“They’re mad, they’re disappointed, they’re angry,” he said. “They’re shocked and a lot of disappointment.”
Taylor explained Chambers’ postgame approach.
“We’re all upset with how we played defense,” he said. “He just told us it’s a process, we have to keep getting better and we can’t let these two losses affect us and let it bring us down. We have to come together as a team and figure it out as a team. That’s all we can do.”
MORE OF MOORE A GOOD THING
Sophomore Julian Moore got the start in place of struggling senior Jordan Dickerson at center and it paid off for the Lions. Moore had a career- and team-high 16 points on 7 of 11 shooting. Dickerson has one field goal on the year and did not score Tuesday.
“I just see a confident kid and his teammates are confident in him,” Chambers said. “I think you saw why he started. He is very capable of being an inside threat and loosening things up on the perimeter — he definitely did that with 16 critical points. He is a confident kid and he is very long and very athletic. We have 42 in-the-paint points, that’s excellent. That’s really good and that’s a lot because of him.”
STILL JACKING IT UP
In the meantime, another senior big man — Donovan Jack — continued to struggle. He was 0 of 3 from the floor and finished with one point. And for some reason, Jack keeps jacking up 3-pointers. He had two quick-trigger bombs Tuesday and missed them both, with one leading to a fast-break bucket for Radford.
Chambers talks a lot about players “earning the right” to take 3-pointers. It is difficult to imagine how in the heck Jack has done that. He entered Tuesday’s action shooting 28.2 percent from the arc in his career.
It sure seems like all of the time he has spent attempting to become a long-range threat during his career would have been much better spent at least trying to refine his post moves.
Jack has not made more than one 3-pointer in a game since going 2 of 5 vs. Purdue on Jan. 18, 2014.
Speaking of which, here are some mind-blowing stats on Jack:
• Since that game against Purdue in 2014, he has made 6 of 49 3-pointers, or 12.2 percent.
• Up to and including that game against Purdue, he had made 18 of 38 3-pointers, or 47.3 percent.
So we get why the PSU staff kept letting him shoot triples — for a while. But at this point, it is probably safe to say he’s lost his touch.
• The single most positive development in Tuesday's game was sophomore point guard Shep Garner stepping up his offensive game — and not just by shooting (he had 11 points). Garner slashed to the bucket consistently, and ended up with a season-high eight assists. He had six assists on the year prior to Tuesday. If Garner continues to play like that, it will do wonders for the PSU offense.
• The Lions also had only five turnovers in the game. Good stuff against a team that pressed (albeit mostly token) much of the game.
• And while we’re on the positives, five Lions finished in doubles (see the box below) and freshman Josh Reaves chipped in with nine points. Difficult to remember the last time we saw such balanced scoring from Penn State. Of course, as soon as the Lions do that, their defense goes on vacation.
• Freshman forward Davis Zemgulis missed Tuesday’s game with a sprained left MCL and is expected to be out of action for a week or two.
• Penn State next plays host to Bucknell Saturday in a game that tips at 1 p.m.