UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- On a good day, or in this case, a good stretch of a game, Penn State basketball can feature timely3-point shooting, pressuring defense and athletic moves from guards D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall.
That kind of basketball doesn't happen all the time, though. And that's the problem. Penn State lost to Boston College, 73-61, despite chopping a 20-point deficit to three late in the second half while playing the basketball described above.
"We need to play gritty for 40 minutes," coach Patrick Chambers said. "If you only play for 30 you see the result."
Penn State (3-3) did not shoot well for most of the game, aside from its second-half run. It made 36 percent of its field goals, 30 percent of its 3-pointers and 68 percent of its free throws. Forward Jon Graham even air-balled a free throw.
The Nittany Lions didn't really awaken until they had fallen behind, 59-39, in the second half, employing more of an up-tempo pace and pressing defense. Before then, Newbill said they played timid. They also turned the ball over 10 times in the first half, Newbill with six.
"I was disappointed with the first 20 minutes," Chambers said.
As he does with almost any basketball subject, Chambers traces performances such as these back to confidence and effort. He wants to see his team actually believe that it can win without injured star guard Tim Frazier.
"They feel they can win games without Tim, but it's a day-to-day basis," Chambers said. "That's a thing that I have to continue to stress and emphasize."
Chambers clearly liked what he saw Friday when the team defeated Bucknell. Penn State scored 44 points in the second half, shooting 65 percent after scoring 16 points on 16 percent shooting in the first half.
And Chambers admitted the victory did wonders for his team's psyche. Then he saw his players practicing a couple of days later. He said they their body language and facial expressions sagged. He didn't like what he saw. Among other improvements, he wants his team to play with less fear.
"You can't let shots dictate your effort or define who you are," Chambers said.
For one player, taking shots means a little more. What's apparent about this Penn State team going forward is that Newbill is the best remaining player. But he tended to disappear for stretches in the first half against Boston College (3-4).
For the first seven minutes, he didn't attempt a field goal. Then, he scored seven points in less than two minutes.
It's a problem partially expected. Newbill had to sit out all of last season as a transfer and is now playing out of position at lead guard because of Frazier's injury.
"I'm just taking shots when they are there," Newbill said. "It's not like I'm trying to score a bunch. I'm taking them with confidence."
There was a play in the second half where Newbill, who finished with 22 points, led a fast break. He probably could have dribbled out and set up the offense. Maybe he should have. Instead he drove to the basket for a dunk, slamming the ball into the back iron and missing.
Later, Newbill drove toward two defenders on another fast break. This time he made a layup and got fouled.
That played helped spark the 15-1 run for the Nittany Lions, largely behind Newbill and Marshall, who finished with 25 points, pulling them within three. They had already fallen behind by 20 points, so the outpouring of offense, spurred by three forced turnovers, wouldn't quite be enough.
But this was at least close to what Chambers hopes for his team. They had forgotten about those misses earlier and were playing with the carefree urgency they don't have every day or every game, but they did for a bit.
"Those last five minutes showed me something," he said.
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @mdent05.