Right in the thick of its Big Ten schedule, Penn State has managed to rush itself into a slow start.
The Nittany Lions (8-10, 0-6 Big Ten) have come out of the gate out of control, forcing bad shots and giving up turnovers, resulting in six-straight losses. During this streak, the Lions have found themselves trailing at halftime in each game and have allowed teams to build up dominating leads despite giving better second half effort.
Tonight Penn State must find a way to correct this issue against the top-ranked offense in the Big Ten as it travels to Bloomington to take on No. 7 Indiana (16-2, 4-1 Big Ten).
“Indiana is a great team. We have got to play the way we did in the second half to give ourselves a chance,“ coach Patrick Chambers said. “It’s another opportunity for us to get a win, another opportunity to beat a top 25 team. There’s so many positives about the game and that’s got to be our mindset. That’s what it’s going to be as long as I’m the coach.”
The Hoosiers lead the conference in scoring margin at plus-23.8 points per game and defeated the Lions 74-51 at the Bryce Jordan Center on Jan. 7 after jumping out to a 44-27 lead at halftime. In that first half of that contest, the Lions shot 34 percent with eight turnovers, and the Hoosiers capitalized, with 15 points off of turnovers and a 52 percent shooting percentage.
Penn State slowed the game down in the second half, as the team forced Indiana into 12 turnovers, but poor shooting continued to plague the Lions as they lost in a blowout.
When Chambers was asked what factors were causing these slow starts he did not pin down one aspect but pointed to a lack of experience.
“I can’t tell you, you’re playing a game you work so hard all week, when the ball is about up you think that you have the butterflies in your gut, but you’re ready to go,” Chambers said. “This is a youthful team and missing shots and turning the ball over can mess you up for a couple possessions and I think that’s what happened. And that’s when [opponents] go on their run.”
Last game against Nebraska, Penn State came out sluggish and trailed 33-28 at the half. The Lions formulated a run late in the game, but they went 1-for-6 from the free throw line down the stretch to lose 68-64. Though foul shots stood out as the glaring reason for the loss, both Chambers and redshirt sophomore D.J. Newbill pointed to the team’s lack of effort early in the game as what dictated the loss.
The Lions will have to find an answer for a Hoosier offense that boasts five double-digit scorers. The last time Penn State faced Indiana, four Hoosiers posted double digits, led by 6-foot-9 forward Christian Watford, who proved to be a matchup problem both inside and out, finishing with 16 points.
Hoosiers’ leading scorer Cody Zeller also found a way to dominate the Lions’ post players as he put up 15 points.
Though the last-place Lions will be facing another top-tier Big Ten opponent, players still seem motivated to battle in one of the most competitive conferences in college basketball.
Newbill said there isn’t a night off in the Big Ten as the Lions have to face bigtime programs and Hall of Fame coaches.
“It shows how much harder we have to work,” Newbill said. “I think this league builds character it takes heart to be in this league. We don’t enjoy the losses but we enjoy coming out every day and being able to step on the court and compete at the highest level.”