Penn State (12-12, 4-7 Big Ten) has had a season of inconsistencies. Following its loss to Rutgers — which was just the second conference win of the season and first road Big Ten win in three years for the Scarlet Knights — Penn State has won just once in its last six games.
That ugly loss at home came just days after nearly pulling off a marquee win for the 2016-17 season, a triple overtime defeat to Indiana in front of a sold out crowd of 17,222 at Assembly Hall. A game that coach Pat Chambers knows was just a made free throw down the stretch on multiple occasions away from securing victory.
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Nittany Lions in the coming days.
Penn State’s next clash comes Tuesday at the Bryce Jordan Center against No. 17 Maryland before back-to-back away games against Illinois and Nebraska.
Chambers, disappointed following the loss to Rutgers just days after the tight effort against Indiana, is hoping the Nittany Lions can remember what happened in the rough result against the Scarlet Knights and build for the future.
“We have to do a better job,” Chambers said. “You can’t think about the past. It’s like a reliever. You give up a home run, next play, next game, next day, next practice. It’s what’s got to be and we didn’t have that [against Rutgers]and that’s when your leaders need to step up. I need to step up as a head coach.”
The biggest issue Penn State faced against the Scarlet Knights was winning the battle on the boards. Outside of the efforts of Lamar Stevens, the Nittany Lions couldn’t handle the size of Rutgers and keep up with its rebounding totals — getting beaten on the boards 39-27 by the Scarlet Knights.
Right now, the Nittany Lions are last in the Big Ten on rebounding margin — getting out-rebounded on average by more than three a game. Against a Maryland team that out-rebounds opponents by 1.7 a game with a pair of centers at heights of 6’11 and 7’1, the struggle on the boards is going to be difficult to change.
“[W]e’re relying on a freshman,” Chambers said. “I think our older guys need to step up. They really do. They need to step up, they need to find bodies, and have to start rebounding at a much higher level because they’re playing significant minutes. They’re playing a lot of minutes and they have to step up. They have to rebound. It’s got to be a collective effort. It’s not one or two guys. It’s the entire team.”
Veteran leader Shep Garner has seen as much of the college game as any player in the locker room for Penn State. The junior guard is focused on moving beyond the team’s recent struggles and finding its form heading forward.
“Just getting back to work,” Garner said. “We’re trying to get ready for Maryland. We have Maryland coming here and we’re going to prepare for them. We’ll try to see what we did wrong this game and get better.”
The Nittany Lions faced similar struggles in the beginning of conference play last season, but managed to find their groove as the Big Ten slate went along.
After falling in four-straight games heading into February, Penn State rattled off wins against No. 4 Iowa and No. 22 Indiana as it finished off the conference slate with five wins in its last eight.
The Nittany Lions have a similar chance to cause a stir in the coming weeks with a pair of ranked foes coming to the BJC.