News & Notes Ahead Of Penn State Hoops’ Home Contest Against St. Francis
It’s been a hot start for Penn State men’s basketball which improved to 2-0 after last week’s victories over Delaware State and Lehigh. Head coach Mike Rhoades spoke to the media Monday afternoon ahead of the Nittany Lions’ matchup with St. Francis (PA).
Ahead of the Tuesday battle in the Bryce Jordan Center, Mike Rhoades chatted with the media about improvements that need to be made before the team’s March Madness rematch with No. 13 Texas A&M in the ESPN Events Invitational, Puff Johnson’s availability, the continued effort to cut down on turnovers, and the impact of the group’s walk-on players.
On Puff Johnson’s Rehab
Senior forward Puff Johnson has yet to make his season and team debut for the Nittany Lions due to an undisclosed injury. Though Rhoades wouldn’t give a timeline on Johnson’s recovery, he alluded to the forward’s progress and the importance of full health before making a return.
“We’ll see how he feels today during practice and then evaluate after practice,” Rhoades said. “We want to see this kid play, but the most important thing is making sure he’s healthy. We got a lot of basketball ahead of us.”
On Minimizing Turnovers
Through the first two games, the Nittany Lions have already committed 36 team turnovers. Penn State lands at the third-highest turnover rate within the Big Ten, though Nebraska and Rutgers, who lead in conference turnovers, have each played three games.
Rhoades spoke about how the team is going to have turnovers but it needs to dial in on the defensive side of play and continue to play quick but smart.
“We shift gears, that’s the phrase we’re using with our guys, shift gears to still be aggressive on offense and still play fast and at a great pace,” Rhoades said. “Be quick but don’t hurry. Don’t throw 50/50 balls. Let’s get a shot every time down. We’re gonna have some turnovers because I want these guys to play loose and be aggressive, but I don’t want to be too loose with the basketball.”
On Increasing Clean Looks From Three
While turnovers have been an issue, scoring from beyond the arc has been up and down for the Nittany Lions. The team is 19-55 from three-point land so far this season, a .345 percentage.
Players like transfer Leo O’Boyle and Zach Hicks have received open looks, but haven’t efficiently knocked down the attempts from long-range. The hot hand on the team has been sophomore guard Jameel Brown who has eight triples in his first two games.
While some see it as a cause for panic, Rhoades talked about how the new style of play the team is running has an adjustment period and he’s confident his players will come through.
“There are certain guys that we want to get more threes for, of course, Zach and Leo,” Rhoades said. “For both of these guys, they’ve never played at this pace before, and we’re demanding a lot of them on the defensive end and also playing on a pace on the offensive end and making shots. It’s not always easy. It’s still very early. Those adjustments we’re going to continue to make, and I’m not worried about Zach and Leo. We’ll shoot the basketball. They’re gonna make threes.”
On Bold, Different, & Aggressive Style Of Play
For Rhoades, Happy Valley is where he’s getting his first opportunity to coach a Power Five team throughout his 27 years of coaching. The pace of play and offensive style has been different than any team he’s coached before, he said.
“I want to be different. I don’t want to be the status quo. I want to be different,” Rhoades said. “You see, this pace we’re playing at and everybody runs so excited. This is fun. And I’m like, ‘I think we can play faster.'”
“I feel like we had a great formula at VCU,” he continued. “At Rice, we developed a really good formula that was much different than the rest of the league. And I think that the league, when I was there, was a little shocked that we were playing that way. ‘Oh, you can’t play fast or you can’t trap people [because] you don’t have the athletes. It’s our style. It’s a plan of attack. It’s a style. It’s what you believe in and how you sell it.”
On Returning Walk-Ons Andy Christos & Dan Conlan’s Importance
Only three scholarship players return to Happy Valley this season from the previous team, though two walk-ons joined them: seniors Andy Christos and Dan Conlan.
While their playing time may be limited during the season, Rhoades talked about how much he’s loved coaching the pair and how much of an impact they already have on the team’s development and culture.
“I treat walk-ons like they’re starters,” Rhoades said. “I yell at them as much as Kanye [Clary], [Demetrius Lilley], and Jameel [Brown]. I expect them to be as locked in every day as everybody else… If I have to use them to win a game, I’m using them in a second because I think the world of both of them.”
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