After his players took Friday off for a meeting and lifting, Ed DeChellis brought them together over the weekend for what he called "spirited practices."
"There's been a lot of competition in practice. Guys getting after one another," DeChellis said. "I think that's healthy. We've kind of increased the level of intensity, and everything I did for the last two days has been competition."
DeChellis said the losers suffered consequences, which helped increase the energy in practice. While the team has struggled scoring in the post, its transition game has been very successful, but it all starts on the defensive end.
Without a halfcourt game, DeChellis has said the Nittany Lions have to play strong defense for 40 minutes if they want to win. Junior forward Jeff Brooks said the coaches have been trying to instill a mentality on defense to make opposing teams work to score.
"If the ball's not going inside the bucket then you have to do something else," Brooks said. "You've got to stop other people from scoring, and that's something the coaches very much put an emphasis on watching us play."
After starting conference play with three losses, Brooks said the team is anxious to get its first Big Ten win. In recent practices, guard Talor Battle has been very competitive and is trying to be a leader, DeChellis said.
Brooks said the attitude in the locker room isn't depressed or upset but energized to break through. DeChellis said while the team is in an early hole in the standings, it's important not to get too down about the losses.
"No one wants to be in the position we're in," DeChellis said. "It's a very humbling conference if you don't stay focused, and you don't continue to work hard. If you get
yourself too down sometimes it's hard to pull yourself back up."
One thing the Lions are still working on is rebounding on both ends of the floor. DeChellis said the team has been doing rebounding drills nearly everyday in practice and "there's always room for improvement."
Aside from transition, DeChellis said becoming a better offensive rebounding team will lead to scoring, especially for center Drew Jones. The coach has said all season Jones needs to be an eight-to-10 rebound-per-game player for the Lions to be successful.
"If everyone rebounds it makes us such a better team instead of worrying about one or two people getting every single rebound," Brooks said. "Team rebounding is a big emphasis as well against Illinois."
Brooks said the Lions want to play a complete defensive game Tuesday night at Illinois to avoid a similar collapse to their last game against Michigan.
"We came out in the first half of that game and played tremendously on defense, and we just let it all go down the tubes in the second half," Brooks said. "That's something we can't do. We need a great 40-minute performance on defense to make sure we seal a win in Champaign."