Penn State may be rolling into the Big Ten Tournament riding a five-game losing streak. But the program is not running short on votes of confidence.
Nor (proverbial) suits of armor.
CHAMBERS ON BARBOUR’S COMMENTS
Sunday, following an ugly regular-season ending loss at Iowa, PSU athletic director Sandy Barbour surprised nobody by giving sixth-year coach Pat Chambers a vote of confidence.
The Nittany Lions have yet to qualify for the NIT in Chambers’ tenure — let alone the NCAA tournament — and at 14-17 going into Big Tens the odds of even an NIT bid this year are remote. But Chambers has an outstanding freshman class and no seniors, and nobody seriously expected him to be on any sort of hot seat even with a losing record in 2016-17.
Sunday, Barbour put all questions to rest by sending a statement to several media outlets — and first reported by StateCollege.com — saying, “Pat’s our coach and is going to continue to be our coach next year.”
Monday, with associate AD Lynn Holleran making an appearance in the back of the room, Chambers thanked PSU for sticking with him. He also took the opportunity to note that the team’s six losses by five points or fewer and/or in overtime were a sign that his program is getting closer to where it needs to be.
“It’s awesome for Sandy and Lynn and the administration to support me that way,” he said. “I’m truly grateful, because there’s still a lot of work to be done. This has truly been a journey and a process for me and my staff.
“I feel like we’re so darn close,” he added. “I can see it, I can touch it, I can just … you know, if we flip some of these games our way, we’re sitting here talking about something completely different. But they didn’t (flip). And I believe we’re all gonna learn from these close games and we’re gonna be that much better for them.”
Of course, when looking at a team’s record and wondering what might have been if not for a handful of close losses, nobody ever wants to flip it around and consider how much worse it could have been. The Lions beat Minnesota 52-50 in a game they trailed by 14 at one point. They hung on to beat Illinois at home after nearly blowing a 22-point second-half lead.
HIS OWN VOTE OF CONFIDENCE
But the general line of questioning Monday had less to do with big picture stuff like Chambers’ future (because that was never an actual issue) and more to do with what went wrong for Penn State as it stumbled to a 6-12 record and 13th-place finish in the Big Ten. The Lions won only three of their final 13 league games and the five-game losing streak is their longest entering Big Tens since 2005.
Anybody remotely paying attention knows a significant problem was that the two men who were supposed to be the Nittany Lions’ best 3-pointer shooters — junior captains Shep Garner and Payton Banks — both struggled with consistency.
Garner shot only 32 percent from the arc in Big Ten play, Banks 34 percent. Since the start of February, Garner has made 23 of 72 triples and Banks 12 of 39.
PSU’s record in those nine games was 2-7.
Monday, Chambers said he still believed in his veterans — as shooters and leaders.
“They’re young kids still,” the coach said. “You can see where missing shots or an assignment might affect the way they lead. But for the most part they know that I believe in them and the staff believes in them — they’re our leaders. They’ve got to learn from these experiences and get better.”
We get that a coach has to stand behind his veteran players. Chambers has always been a class act in that way.
But the “young kids” line?
Garner is 22 and has started 94 games. Banks will turn 22 in May and has played in 92 games.
Then Chambers dropped this line:
“Throw on the armor. Throw on the armor and continue to get better.”
When asked what he meant by that, Chambers basically admitted that people within the program are listening to criticism being leveled from outside of it. And that includes the head coach.
“You know, to what everybody’s saying out there, ” Chambers said. “You know, not making shots — (I was) just asked the question. Last eight games, you’re not making shots. …
“You’ve got to have thick skin in this business,” he added. “Just like I have to have thick skin. Can’t listen to what everybody says on the outside. Why would I give you guys (the media) that power? I have the power. So I’m gonna continue to have a positive attitude. They need to continue to have a positive attitude. We need to be pulling in the right direction.”
Which begs the obvious question that if the head coach — in his powerful ways — doesn’t listen to what outsiders say, why does he think anyone needs to armor up against criticism?
Of course, if Penn State ever starts winning on a consistent basis under Chambers, there will be no need for armor.
Nor votes of confidence.