Week to week, Penn State seems to take one step forward and two steps back.
Recently, coach Patrick Chambers has expressed that he feels his team is close to getting its first win in conference play.
The Nittany Lions (8-13, 0-9 Big Ten) put together a rare 40 percent shooting performance at Iowa last Thursday.
Despite hanging with the Hawkeyes offensively, the Lions forfeited 18 turnovers and committed 26 fouls resulting in 39 free throws for Iowa in a 76-67 loss.
“Thirty-nine free throws, that hurts,” Chambers said. “We have to do a better job of playing hard and smart without fouling.”
On the defensive end the Lions found themselves out of position and slow to rotate against a quicker Hawkeyes offense, piling up on fouls.
For a team that has formed its identity on defense and rebounding, Penn State got too physical at times. That physicality, combined with a few quick whistles from the referees, was a recipe for disaster as the Lions lost their ninth straight.
“The game was a physical game, the refs were calling the game tight and that’s how [it] was going,” redshirt sophomore D.J. Newbill said. “I think some of it was our rotation, maybe it was slow sometimes but we’re just playing man. We can’t worry about the refs or anything else we just have to keep playing hard.”
Freshman Brandon Taylor was the only player to foul out for the Lions, but both senior Nick Colella and redshirt junior Jermaine Marshall got into foul trouble with four apiece. Iowa wing players Aaron White and Melsahn Basabe took advantage, both shooting double-digit free throws. White shot 10-of-11 from the line and finished with a game-high 27 points.
Defense has been a main focus for Taylor in his freshman season. He has taken on the difficult task of learning how to play defense against the bigger and faster elite forwards of the Big Ten.
“I feel like I’m getting better on defense every day,” Taylor said. “I’m staying in front of my man better every game. It’s a little harder for me because of the speed and everybody is so quick but I’m starting to learn different concepts.”
The Lions have come out with a number of defensive formations from man-to-man to several zone defenses.
They switched things up a few times against Iowa and at times strung together solid defensive stretches, playing close on the road.
Sophomore Ross Travis said that any of the Lions’ defensive sets can work as long as the team plays as a unit. They will look for a cohesive defensive unit tonight against Purdue at home after losing 60-42 to the Boilermakers on the road on Jan. 13.
“I think we can play our man defense as well as we play our zone it just comes down to playing hard and wanting to get stops, playing as a team,” Travis said. “If we play as a team in our defenses they’re all effective in the same ways, it’s our mindset going in.”