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Chambers Expecting Defensive Improvements From Lions

Patrick Chambers knows that Penn State isn’t the type of team that’s going to shoot other teams out of the gym. With that in mind, he has tried to build the 2014-15 team’s identity on defense.

In two games this season, the Nittany Lions (2-0) are holding opponents to just 51 points per game and 30.2 percent shooting from the field. Penn State has also forced turnovers that have led to breakout plays. Despite the solid outings against weaker competition, Chambers is expecting more as his team travels to Charleston, S.C. to compete in the Charleston Classic this weekend.

“We have a lot of work to do still to become the best defensive team that we can become,” Chambers said at his weekly press conference. “And quite frankly, to be better on offense.”

Chambers players seem to be buying into his message. Guard Geno Thorpe — a key reserve off of the Lions’ bench — forced two steals and ripped down three boards from the guard spot in 16 minutes on Sunday against Fordham. One of those steals turned into a momentum-shifting D.J. Newbill dunk.

“We’re trying to establish our identity right now, early in the season, so that for Big Ten play teams really know what it is and know that we take defense seriously,” Thorpe said at Tuesday’s practice. “That’s what coach Chambers wants and that’s what we’re going to do for him.”

In a conference characterized by low scores and lockdown D, Chambers is trying to mold a squad that won’t struggle to go basket-for-basket against teams like No. 20 Ohio State and No. 3 Wisconsin in Big Ten play.

He said his team will have to do a better job in man defense situations. Though the Lions gave both Morgan State and Fordham some zone looks in certain spots, Chambers calls himself a “man-to-man guy through-and-through.”

“We have some veteran lineups that really know what they’re doing,” Chambers said. “They talk early, they talk often. That’s really the positive on the defensive end. I think our man defense… it’s not where it needs to be. We still have a lot of room for growth, but it’s getting closer. I think our zone defense is probably better now than it was last year at this time, which is encouraging.”

Rebounding was also a point of emphasis for the coach. The Lions ranked in the top half of the conference in both rebounds per game and rebounding margin last season, despite a thin front court. The Lions return a more experienced group of bigs led by senior Ross Travis, who averaged 7.0 boards per game, good for fourth in the Big Ten.

Travis says he personally takes responsibility to make rebounding a point of emphasis with his team. The Lions have a plus-3.5 margin on the glass through their two games, but he knows they’ll need to make improvements.

“I take a lot of responsibility. I know that’s one of my jobs,” Travis said. “I know I’m one of the leading rebounders in the Big Ten, so that’s what I’ve got to come out and do. For this team, I have to get us extra possessions and I have to be able to close possessions by getting us defensive rebounds.”

The Lions open this weekend’s tournament against Charlotte (1-0) on Thursday and hope to build off last weekend’s success.

“We still got a lot of stuff to work on. We’re happy with what we did this weekend but we’re not satisfied,” Thorpe said. “We’ve still got to get better and we know we’re going to play tougher teams down the stretch.”

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