Leading by two points with just 6:21 remaining in Sunday’s contest against Wisconsin, Penn State playmaker Jermaine Marshall was called for his fourth foul of the afternoon.
Marshall — who finished the game with 23 points — was the Nittany Lions’ hot hand as the game wound down, but was forced to sit periodically to avoid fouling out.
Even though the junior dodged a game-ending fifth foul, Marshall said it was tough not being on the court for the full duration of the closing minutes.
“It's frustrating. I wanted to be out there, but at the same time I got to trust all my teammates,” Marshall said after the game.
This case involving the Lions’ go-to scorer of late is part of a foul trouble trend that spans almost two months.
Since Jan. 16, the team has seen at least two players reach four fouls in 13 of its last 14 contests, with the only exception coming in a Feb. 27 upset against Michigan.
In that particular game, only two Lions were held back by three fouls — hardly an overwhelming burden.
Also, in that span coach Patrick Chambers has seen 13 of his players foul out. The defense-first coach said too much of an aggressive attitude has contributed to the foul troubles.
“They were trying to play hard [against Wisconsin], and sometimes when we play hard we negate our effort,” Chambers said. “Sometimes we have poor angles. You step up and put two hands on a guy instead of taking a deeper angle and having our hands up.”
Senior forward Sasa Borovnjak agreed with his coach, mentioning that poor positioning on the defensive end leads to players trying to make up ground.
Borovnjak — a key to the Lions’ offense recently — was forced to sit out almost 12 minutes of the first half due to two early fouls.
“You have to make sure your rotations are good and being at certain spots at the right time. Last game, I was a little bit late and trying to play hard. [Early foul trouble] is not what we need,” Borovnjak said.
On the flip side, the handfuls of fouls have come from silly, unnecessary fouls.
Senior guard Nick Colella, known for his hustle and gritty play, has been a culprit of racking up personal fouls.
While he leads the team in charges taken and dives, Colella has also fouled out three times in the last 14 games — something he said can be corrected by limiting unnecessary fouls.
“Some guys, me included, have some unnecessary fouls,” Colella said. “Eliminating those will help cut down opponents’ foul shots, and playing solid halfcourt defense will help eliminate those fouls.”
As Colella mentioned, an abundance of fouls by Penn State has led to a plethora of chances for the opponent at the free throw line.
The Lions have allowed opponents to attempt 29 or more shots from the charity stripe on nine occasions in their last 14 contests.
With a matchup with No. 6 Michigan in the Big Ten tournament on Thursday, Chambers said keeping opponents off the free throw line could prove vital to Penn State’s success.
Featuring slashing guards like Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. the Wolverines love to get to the rim and, consequentially, draw fouls.
“We have to play good, solid defense and play hard without fouling, especially [Trey Burke],” Chambers said. “You can't just let a guy like that get to the foul line and beat us that way.”