With about two and a half minutes remaining, Penn State desperately needed a stop and points on the other end. Trailing by six, the Nittany Lions’ senior leader, Josh Reaves, made a play he’s made many times over the course of his career.
Reaves came up with a steal and was streaking down the court on a fastbreak. But he missed the layup on the other end. Luckily for Penn State, he corralled his own miss and was fouled. But he missed both free throws. That sequence paints the picture of Penn State’s performance in the Big Ten home opener against Indiana.
The Nittany Lions were just 11-of-26 from the free throw line in its home gym and lost another close game. Now sitting at 4-4 and the nonconference schedule kicking back into gear, Pat Chambers and his team now have some self-reflection to do.
“When you [are] 11-of-26 from the free throw line, that can really deflate you and play games with your head,” Chambers said. “I felt like our team still competed at the defensive end. That’s the sign of a very good team. On the offensive end, we got to work to do.”
Chambers is right. His team did compete until the very end. Penn State battled back from a 14-point deficit and had a chance to force overtime or win the game with a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the game. But in all honesty, it should have been the Hoosiers that needed to battle back and attempt a game-tying or game-winning shot.
The Nittany Lions are playing like a young, inexperienced team. It goes beyond the missed free throws. It’s the missed layups. It’s not converting turnovers into points. It’s not taking advantage of second chance opportunities. Chambers knows that.
“We were 9-of-28 on layups. We were 5-of-21 from the 3-point line,” Chambers said. “I think everybody’s got to exhale. We’re getting stops. We turned them over 16 times. The problem is we’re only getting 16 points of those turnovers. We need to take those turnovers and they need to be baskets, they need to be points.”
All of those little things seem to carry more weight in Big Ten games. Lamar Stevens is now in his third season in the Big Ten and he knows that any one thing can mean the difference in this conference.
“I’ve always told the guys it’s little things that separate Big Ten games because everybody is so talented,” Stevens said. “You’ve always got to do the little things really well.”
Stevens understands his teammates are young and that they’re clearly not playing their best basketball right now. He also knows that doing the simple things well can help combat some struggles at the offensive end.
“You’ve always got to do the little things really well,” Stevens said. “This is just another case of that, just making free throws. It’s something small, but we just gotta keep practicing and keep getting better.”
If Penn State goes 14-of-26 from the free throw line (still a bad night by any standards) it probably wins this game. But that’s been the case for this team through the first eight games.
The Nittany Lions have had a shot to win just about every game. Chambers mentioned how his team is just a few points away from being 8-0. But they’re not. They’re 4-4.
But luckily for Chambers, he’s got about a month before Big Ten play resumes. and his team hits the road to play arguably the best team in the conference, Michigan. So for now, he’ll remain confident that shots will start to fall.
“I like the direction we’re headed in,” Chambers said. “I’m going to remain optimistic and very positive.”