As a member of the Big Ten, Penn State is pressed with the issue of finding a way to score in a conference with offensive powerhouses such as Indiana and Michigan.
Early on in their conference schedule the Nittany Lions (8-6, 0-2 Big Ten) have not been able to score effectively, currently ranked 11th out of 12 teams in scoring with just 63.4 points per game. In their two Big Ten games, the Lions put up a mere 51 points twice and though they put forth a good defensive effort, failed to formulate runs to remain in games against Wisconsin and Indiana.
In order for the Lions to keep up with some of the better teams in their conference they will need much greater production from their bench players — the Penn State bench has scored just 11 points in these two games.
Redshirt sophomore Jon Graham was the only reserve to score against Wisconsin and the bench was held scoreless in the first half against Indiana as the Hoosiers built up an insurmountable lead.
“We want to fill our role the best that we can,” Graham said. “We understand Indiana’s over with, but with the Big Ten and as many games as we have we have to keep it moving.”
Despite its recent struggles, the Penn State bench showed flashes at the end of non-conference play. Freshman Donovon Jack had a breakout game against Delaware State with eight points and a solid defensive effort. Senior and co-captain Nick Collela put together a career high 15 point-effort against Duquense in the final non-conference game of Penn State’s schedule.
These two, as well as Graham, have received the most minutes off of the bench and are expected by coach Pat Chambers to make a significant contribution. Though scoring is a clear need for the Lions, the reserve players are looking to impact the game past offensive performance alone. They look to embrace Chambers’ moniker of “attitude” and improve their effort on both ends of the court.
Collela has probably been the greatest example of this style of play, known for his willingness to dive and sacrifice his body to make plays. Collela has taken a number of charges and dives for steals that have helped the Lions gain momentum in games.
“I think just coming off the bench and we try to provide the team with a spark and a sense of energy just giving the guys a boost that are starting,” Collela said. “As soon as I get in I try to dive on the floor, any opportunity to dive from behind or take a charge on defense I think that really gets us going. And that’s the biggest part getting going on defense because that really helps our offense.”
Though Collela, Jack and Graham have helped at points early in the season, Chambers is looking to go even deeper and have more of these bench players in a position to contribute in games.
“Foundation, habits, they have to continue to get better and gain a better understanding of what we’re doing and they will,” Chambers said. “We need them. I thought Patrick Ackerman gave us some good minutes [against Indiana], we could use Kevin [Montminy] and Akosa [Maduegbunam]. We need one of those guys to step up.”