For Penn State to pull off an upset of No. 5 Indiana on Monday night, quite a few things had to fall the Nittany Lions’ way.
Sure, D.J. Newbill, who shot just 3-of-15 from the field, probably needed a signature performance, and lack of consistency from behind the arc proved costly.
However, the Lions were creating many of possibly the easiest shot in basketball for the Hoosiers: the free throw.
When asked if getting to the foul line more would be a point of emphasis heading forward for the Lions, coach Patrick Chambers was straightforward.
“Yeah,” Chambers said. “It would be nice.”
The Lions, who lost the battle around the rim to Indiana’s big men on Monday, weren’t attacking the basket with enough tenacity to draw fouls.
Despite baiting Hoosiers’ forward Cody Zeller into three fouls of his own, Penn State made only 11 trips to the charity stripe, sinking eight of those attempts.
On the other hand, Indiana, who leads the Big Ten in free throw attempts and percentage made, made 22 of its 34 attempts at the line.
Combining the 11 attempts the Lions had Monday and the mere one foul shot against Wisconsin on Thursday, Chambers’ squad has attempted the least amount of free throws in Big Ten play thus far.
“We have to get to the line, and then we got to make them,” Chambers said. “In the non-conference [schedule] one of our goals was 20-plus free throws per game.”
Penn State is seventh in total free throw attempts and percentage (68.7) this season among Big Ten teams.
As Chambers pointed out, the Lions’ focus in the non-conference was to rack up free throw attempts and they succeeded. In the Lions’ 12 non-conference games, the team averaged 23.5 free throw attempts per game.
Since Big Ten play started on Jan. 3, the Lions have been plagued by lack of aggression with the basketball and a virtually non-existent post-up game between forwards Sasa Borovnjak and Jon Graham.
Going up against authoritative big men like Zeller and Wisconsin’s Jared Berggren, a tough start around the rim probably isn’t surprising.
However, three combined free throws made in two games by Borovnjak and Graham is not post-up production that’ll make Chambers happy in the treacherous Big Ten.
“Teams are playing us very differently now [as opposed to non-conference play]. We’re not getting to the foul line as much. We’re not getting great post-ups. We have a lot to work on,” Chambers said.
Whether it’s getting better play from the frontcourt or slashing from the guards, an aggressive approach will be necessary throughout Big Ten play, especially against Northwestern on Thursday.
The Wildcats have allowed 47 free throw attempts in their two Big Ten games, and could allow Penn State to get back on track.
“We have to get [to the free throw line] more,” said Lion guard Jermaine Marshall. “[Indiana] played great defense, but we have to be aggressive. I don’t think we were as aggressive as we should have been.”