Year Two of the Pat Chambers era didn't start off in the most flattering way. Turnovers, sloppy play, too much dependency on three-point shooting (which by the way, was an absolute flaming bus of suck as Penn State shot a putrid 3-for-24 from the perimeter), and numerous defensive lapses plagued his team and allowed a St. Francis team which the media had picked to finish dead last in the lowly NEC conference, to hang around and even lead for brief moments before the light finally came on for PSU in the game's final seven minutes, when they proceeded to go on a 13-2 run over the next four minutes and turn a shaky 48-47 lead into a commanding double-digit advantage to take the lightning out of the Red Flash.
Despite the 'meh' tone of this post, there were a couple of glaring positives from tonight's performance: Tim Frazier and DJ Newbill were perhaps the most obvious, as Chambers' self-dubbed "best backcourt in the country" combined for 39 of the team's 65 points and nailed 26 of 28 shots from the free throw line (PSU shot 28 for 32 overall from the free throw line) in their much-anticipated debut together. Newbill featured a very smooth stroke in his shot and was unafraid to drive to the basket and draw contact, while Frazier took matters into his own hands when things got dicey, coming up with some very athletic 'and-ones' and hitting pull-up jumpers to keep the Red Flash at bay. The rebounding was also solid, as PSU had nearly twice as many boards (36) as St. Francis (19), including nine rebounds from Ross Travis, who along with his own 10 points, fell one rebound shy of a double-double. Chambers played eight guys tonight and Brandon Taylor was the lone freshman to see any playing time. Taylor had a couple of nice rebounds in his five minutes of action, but also misfired on both of his shooting attempts, including what should have been a put-back of a missed shot. Still, it was quite apparent that Taylor already has a Big Ten-ready physique and his scoring should pick up as he further adapts to the nuances of the college game.
Unfortunately, there was also plenty of ugly to point out: PSU seemed to have no answer to the Red Flash's Ollie Jackson for most of the night, who ended up with 19 points on 4 of 8 three-point shooting and in general, made life difficult for PSU defensively. In addition, Red Flash point guard Umar Shannon and forward Kam Ritter also came up just shy of double figures, scoring nine points each. It seemed as if there were far too many instances where either St. Francis was able to drive for an easy layup or kick out to a wide-open Jackson for a three. Mind you, a showdown with a sixth-ranked NC State program is up next for PSU, and if they can't rotate well enough defensively to shut down St. Francis' best players, then...well, you get my drift. Furthermore, PSU had some serious turnover issues, committing 17 overall, 11 of them coming in the first half alone. I'm pretty sure I don't have to write any further about how few games this team will win if they don't significantly curtail this problem. Let's hope that this was just a case of first game jitters and shaking off the rust.
And then there's the non-free throw shooting part of shooting, which was downright dismal for a good portion of the evening. PSU shot a paltry 29% in the first half and only improved marginally enough in the second half to raise that total to 36%. As mentioned earlier, the team took more three point shots than Chambers probably would have liked (24), and worse yet, hit a whopping 12.5% of their attempts from behind the arc (3). With that being said, it was in fact, a three pointer by Nick Colella that sparked PSU's late second half run to put St. Francis away for good.
Hats off to a pesky St. Francis team that played like a team that felt disrespected. They certainly reflected the attitude of their first-year coach and State College native Rob Krimmel and it will be interesting to see if they do indeed, make the media prognosticators look like fools. At the same time however, there are plenty of kinks that need to be fixed between now and next Thursday, when the Nittany Lions face their stiffest non-conference challenge of the season in Puerto Rico against an NC State team that had a rather flawless victory themselves.
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