Let's face it: The first two years of the Pat Chambers era were essentially a wash as transfers, injuries, and a dearth of overall talent prevented Chambers from playing the high-scoring, up-tempo style he so covets. If today's game was any indicator (which like any exhibition against a non-D1 team should be taken with a grain of salt), Chambers finally seems to have enough parts in place to run his desired system. 14 steals and 14 fast break points (12 of them coming in the first half) coupled with 12 Nittany Lions seeing action (seven who reached double figures scoring) led to Penn State coming up just two points shy of reaching the century mark in a 98-61 beating of NAIA powerhouse Northwood (FL).
The top story of this contest of course, was the triumphant return of Tim Frazier to actual on-court action. In 26 minutes of playing time, Frazier racked up 11 points, six assists, and three rebounds. More importantly, he seemed to show the agility and hops that he previously displayed before his devastating injury last year. Good news, indeed. His starting backcourt mate, DJ Newbill also tallied 11 points to go with three rebounds and two assists. A scary moment occurred in the first half when the two of them tripped over each other going after a loose ball. Thankfully, it seems the worst thing to come out of that collision was DJ getting his knee iced on the bench in the second half with the game's outcome long since decided. It does not look to be anything to lose sleep over.
The newcomers in the backcourt, Allen Roberts, Graham Woodward, and Geno Thorpe all showcased depth that was sorely lacking last season. Roberts was scrappy on the boards, grabbing 7 rebounds to go with his 11 points (including a perfect 2-for-2 from downtown), Woodward instantly conjured up fond memories of another PSU guard who wore #3 (Joe Crispin) with his ball-handling and three-point shooting ability (Woodward was 3-for-4 on such shots), and Thorpe showcased speed and the ability to attack the rim offensively.
Up front, Ross Travis was the clear-cut star, tallying a team-leading 17 points to go along with 8 rebounds. Travis looked very fluid getting up-and-down the court, as part of a more up-tempo style of play Chambers is instilling in this year's team, even finishing off a nice breakaway dunk in transition in the second half. More importantly, he seems to have developed a solid jump shot and is playing with a level of confidence not seen in his previous two years as a Nittany Lion. Brandon Taylor was feeling it from three-point range, knocking down four of them on the day and tallying 15 points, himself. Donovon Jack wasn't too shabby either, posting 10 points to go with 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. True freshman Julian Moore did not see any action due to a concussion, but should be cleared to play for the season opener against Wagner.
Again, take everything I've written with a grain of salt, given the opponent. With that being said, it was the type of dominating win one should expect to see from a team that Chambers himself says he wants to see scoring in the 70's routinely (which also will hopefully be an omen for lots of Big Mac happy fun times at the BJC this year).
A Few Random (And Possibly Dumb) Observations:
- Northwood head coach Rollie Massimino (yes, THAT Rollie Massimino, as in the guy who coached Villanova to a stunning upset over Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA Championship game) was honored before the game at mid-court with Chambers presenting him a white game ball with the Nittany Lion logo on it. Also, for a man who's pushing 80, he sure as hell was animated on the sidelines and seemed to be actively coaching this Northwood bunch.
- As is typical in exhibition games like these, the sacrificial non-D1 lamb tends to treat these trips like it's the Final Four and come out more fired up than their heavily favored counterparts. Northwood jumped out to an early 11-2 lead, before Chambers called timeout and appeared (from my angle at least) to be telling his players to relax a bit. Whatever it was he said, it worked as PSU went on a 28-3 run during a 9-minute span, effectively quashing what little hope Northwood may have had of delivering another stunning upset scalp for Massimino
- Since every basketbro out there is making the Graham Woodward-Joe Crispin comparisons already, I propose we come up with a fitting nickname. I'm thinking 'Crispward' (a combination of Crispin and Woodward). Feel free to offer up any suggestions in the comments below, though.