STATE COLLEGE —
Nick Colella knocked the ball loose from an opponent, and two teammates followed him to the floor to save the ball for Penn State.
The Nittany Lions have worked hard all season – though they now have two wins over the last 10 days to show for their scrapes and floor burns.
After an 0-14 start, coach Patrick Chambers’ scrappy club is finishing strong with two wins in three games entering today’s regular-season finale against No. 22 Wisconsin. The 66-59 win Thursday night over Northwestern ended a 17-game Big Ten road losing streak for Penn State (10-19, 2-15) that dated back to March 2011. It was also the first road victory in two years.
“You know, I love that play. It’s a staple of who we are,” Chambers said Friday during a weekly conference call. “That’s Penn State basketball. We are laying a great foundation of things to come.”
There’s a ways to go still in Chambers’ rebuilding project, but the enthusiastic coach finally has some positive results in conference to which to point.
The 84-78 win over then-No. 4 Michigan on Feb. 27 snapped an 18-game conference losing streak. The Nittany Lions then got blown out by Minnesota before rebounding to beat the Wildcats.
Sasa Borovnjak has emerged as a third scorer in the lane to help guards D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall. He posted 15 points and a career-best 10 rebounds against Northwestern for his first career double-double.
Also, shooting has improved of late with the Nittany Lions hitting 40 percent from 3-point range in four of their last six games.
“What I’ve always said is you earn the right to make shots. We’re finally earning the right,” Chambers said. “With sharing the ball, they’re getting more uncontested shots ... Now you’re seeing higher-percentage looks.”
Newbill and Marshall are also finally growing more accustomed to the ball-handling duties they had to assume after point guard and leading scorer Tim Frazier went down with a left Achilles injury four games into the season. That forced Penn State to make unexpected changes on the fly, most notably having combo guard Newbill slide over to take over the point for the first time in his career.
“We playing our best basketball of the year,” Chambers said. “They look like they’re having fun out there. It’s unfortunate that we’re coming down to the end here. But we’re focused on today ... and let’s see what we can do against Wisconsin.”