Hoops Travels To Maryland for First Showdown with B1G Newcomers

If there’s any utterance that Penn State coaches have most frequented following deflating losses this year, it’s “we’re close.”

During Penn State football’s four-game midseason losing streak, James Franklin constantly preached his team was “close” to turning the corner, even as losses piled up, each uglier than the previous, to suggest the contrary.

Now, Pat Chambers, his team coming off a last-second soul-crusher to Illinois last week, is joining the movement.

“We’re getting closer, at least in the same field,” said Chambers Monday at his weekly media briefing. “We’re getting there, which is exciting. We’re competing every night.”

The Penn State basketball team definitely is close to turning the corner: six single digit conference losses and one double-overtime loss to Charlotte make up all but one of the Nittany Lions’ defeats. But, with Brandon Taylor out the last two games and maybe more, with 19 turnovers at Illinois, with unreliable ball-handers except for D.J. Newbill playing the point guard, Penn State still has a hefty hike ahead of itself.

Head-scratchingly, Chambers said he still likes Penn State’s chances.

“We’re two games ahead of where we were last year, I don’t know what everyone is panicking about,” he said with a laugh. “We got a month and a half to go here, I like our chances.”

The Nittany Lions travel to Maryland Wednesday evening for its first ever showdown with the Terrapins as Big Ten members.

Maryland (18-4, 6-3) enter as the No. 17 team in the country, the second-highest ranked Big Ten team in a relatively weak season for the conference. Star freshman guard Melo Trimble leads the Terrapins with 15.7 points per game. 6-foot-8 Jake Layman’s 14.1 points an outing will give Donovon Jack, Julian Moore, and Jordan Dickerson all they can handle.

Trimble used this crossover to end the half against Michigan State earlier this season. It’s safe to assume Trimble against Geno Thorpe will be a fun matchup to watch tonight.

“They’re a top 20 team, had a week off, seems like we get everyone after the bye week,” Chambers said. “They’re really skilled, really talented, phenomenal freshman. It’ll be fun to compete and see what happens.”

Moore, meanwhile, has seen increased minutes and production the past few games. He netted a career-high 10 points at Illinois, including a stretch of consecutive baskets during which D.J. Newbill sat on the bench with foul trouble and kept Penn State competitive late in the first half.

“He just knows where to be, he’s more confident, more understanding of our defense,” said Chambers. “I always knew he could get it done, he just needed to relax out there a little bit.”

The Terrapins feature three players averaging over 13 points a game, and can go 10 men deep, a sure challenge for the short-staffed — and short — Nittany Lions. John Johnson’s indefinite suspension continues, and Chambers had no significant update on Taylor’s return from a knee injury.

Still, Newbill was confident that increased scoring from role players will ease his burden.

“Now teams can’t just focus on me,” he said. “We can run plays for them instead of plays for me.”

The game airs on the Big Ten Network at 8:30 p.m.

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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