Penn State’s 65-58 win over Saint Francis on Friday wasn’t pretty.
But then again, who wanted it to be?
“I know you guys think I’m crazy,” coach Pat Chambers told reporters Monday. “But I think that win for us the other day was awesome.”
Chambers said at his weekly press conference that the team’s first regular season game did expose several areas the team needs to improve upon — namely, a 3-for-24 3-point shooting effort along with 17 turnovers. However, he found solace in his team’s ability to fight through the difficulties and come out with a victory, with solid finishes from backcourt mates Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill.
“We got to find ways to win,” Chambers said. “And it’s not going to be pretty. Everybody wants it to be pretty….That’s not reality, not in the Big Ten. You got to learn to win ugly and that’s what we did.”
Of course, the Nittany Lions did not come out with a top-tier victory against a Saint Francis squad that finished 6-23 last season and was picked to finish last in the 12-team NEC conference this season. And the fact that the Red Flash led the ballgame as late as midway through the second half would seem to bode even worse for the Lions.
Yet, Chambers applauded his team for responding with a late push even when the momentum was in the opponent’s favor, something the coaching staff had been preaching for weeks.
“That was exactly what we planned for in practice,” Chambers said. “You’re not making shots. [We didn’t get] the best calls in America against us…and we still found a way.”
Sophomore forward Jon Graham said the team has already picked up many areas to improve from watching film of the game. The frontcourt, which struggled offensively last season, totaled just 14 points in the contest.
But, Graham said the key to the victory was the Lions not altering their strategy even when trailing at the start of the second half.
“First thing you do is not panic, stick to what you do,” Graham said. “And that’s what we did. We stuck to our principles and stuck to our game plan.”
With a continued pursuit of the basket, Chambers said the Lions took the game over at the foul line. The second-year coach said this was one of the main positives he took away from the game, as the team finished with an excellent 28-for-32 outing from the charity stripe.
The Lions leaned on their senior captain, Frazier, who tallied 16 points in the second half, and also Newbill, who added nine in the final frame. Newbill, a transfer guard, shot just 3-for-10 from the field in his first regular season game, but finished as the team’s second-leading scorer with 16 points.
Frazier said seeing the team’s newest scoring threat in action showed the team a sign of positive things to come.
“It was great to have another running mate out there,” Frazier said. “[D.J.] got his jitters out in the first game. He played well, especially in the second half.”