It’s been the theme of the Penn State men’s basketball program ever since coach Patrick Chambers arrived in Happy Valley — defense and rebounding.
And despite one of the worst offensive slumps in the Chambers-era falling upon the Nittany Lions recently, they have not forgotten their roots.
The Lions remain winless in Big Ten play, but have still managed to hold their own defensively against some of the top-tier offenses in the Big Ten, most recently holding No. 14 Ohio State to 65 points in a loss on Saturday. Team members said they have continued to take pride in stopping the opposing team’s go-to players and view this as a potential avenue for them to stimulate a struggling offense.
The Buckeyes’ Deshaun Thomas entered this past weekend’s game as the only Big Ten player averaging more than 20 points per game, yet the Lions held him to just 11 in the 65-51 loss. In the game prior, Indiana’s leading scorer, Cody Zeller, finished the game with a whopping two points and was held without a field goal.
Chambers, whose squad also held the Hoosiers’ well below their season average, said while the offense hasn’t always found consistency lately, the foundation of his team has remained constant.
“The defending and rebounding has been great, and it’s got to continue,” Chambers said. “You know that when you miss shots, you got to keep defending and keep rebounding and give yourself a chance.”
The Lions have certainly missed their share of shots recently but the effort on the opposite end of the court has kept them in the majority of their Big Ten games.
For example, Penn State went more than 11 minutes without a field goal in the first half of the Ohio State game, but several defensive stands allowed the Lions to trail by just 10 at the end of this stretch.
Forward Ross Travis, who stands out as one of Penn State’s best defenders and rebounders, said the Lions have increased their level of trust with one another on the defensive end.
“If one of those guys penetrates and gets in there, I expect my teammate to be there to help me and pick up for my mistake,” Travis said. “And I pick up for his.”
Although the offensive struggles have been much more glaring than the team’s occasional defensive downfalls, Chambers said it will be important for the team not to forget about stopping opposing offenses, first and foremost.
And, as guard D.J. Newbill said the team is well aware of, if the Lions are going to succeed in such a tough conference, it would likely be a result of this facet of the game.
“[Defense] is very important,” Newbill said. “You got to stop guys. In this game, guys can just score and score and score, and we feel like if we can stop guys from scoring, we’ll have some chances to win some games.”