Dismal shooting hurts Nittany Lions

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State basketball coach Patrick Chambers wants to know if he's crazy. He wonders if he should start taking meds.

He said all that Monday, and, obviously, it's not true. He's kidding. But he's only sort of kidding, and the "serenity now" moment that occurred after the Northwestern game last week provides ample reason for him to question his sanity, even jokingly.

To recap, Chambers opened his postgame news conference with an unprovoked soliloquy, and he was livid, not really at his team or Northwestern, but at himself. It was quite a change of character. He had waded through a year and a half of disappointing losses and growing pains with charisma, saying attitude, attitude, attitude every time Penn State stumbled.

This time, a switch seemed to go off in his head, reversing everything. Attitude now, insanity later?

Most, if not all these frustrations stem from a statistic that absolutely has killed Penn State in the past three games of its 0-4 start to Big Ten play: shooting percentage. The Nittany Lions have shot 52 for 175 (29.7 percent).

"It's like a golfer who's squeezing the golf club," Chambers said. "We're squeezing a little right now."

In addition to preaching attitude, Chambers always has preached defense. Effort and a swarming defense are his key to victories. In the three losses, Penn State has given up an average of 68 points a game. Two opponents were held under their season average for scoring.

So in short, Penn State is doing what Chambers like his teams to do, and it's losing. It's losing badly to good teams (Indiana), badly to average teams (Purdue) and badly to not-great teams (Northwestern).

Part of this is bad luck. Penn State has missed its fair share of open looks and layups. As with every setback this year, the loss of Tim Frazier must be brought up. And then it's also the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions have dealt with quicker, physical guards who have pestered top scorers D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall.

The only thing Penn State is doing right with shooting is making free throws. The Nittany Lions have made a Big-Ten best 76.2 percent. Problem is, they only have attempted about 10 per game.

Despite these offensive deficiencies, Chamber says he won't change anything. Long ago, he learned that such stretches of poor shooting happen. This may be as bad of a rut as he has seen firsthand, but he knows you don't panic and change everything.

"You sit at home late at night and you draw up a bunch of plays, then you wake up the next morning and go, 'Why? For what?' " he said of learning from experience. "As long as we're getting good shots, open shots, we just have to do a better job of slowing down and taking a deep breath and shooting with confidence."

Instead of change, he has tried to increase that confidence through relaxation. Chambers woke the players around 7 Sunday morning before the Purdue game. They expected to go to breakfast and watch film. Their coach took them to the pool and told them to jump in.

"But then the ball gets thrown up and you don't make your first couple of shots, and things go the other way for you," Chambers said. "We're going to get it back. It's only a matter of time before we start hitting shots again. I really believe that."

Does any of that sound crazy? His players are cool with these tactics. In fact, they sound as if Chambers when discussing the shooting problem.

"Attitude, man," Newbill said. "We have to keep coming back with a great attitude and staying positive."

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Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com and Twitter @mdent05.


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