I thought it would be a good game. I did not expect Pitt to shoot 28% in the first half. Thank goodness Pitt was hitting free throws (yeah, that’s still taking some getting used to).
Before the game, I said that Penn State was essentially a two-man team in Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill. Boy, were they ever. The two were a combined 15-30 shooting along with 13-16 on free throws for 45 of the Nits 69 points. The rest of PSU’s squad: 8-23 shooting, 6-7 on free throws. That’s 65% of their made baskets and total scoring. 55% of their total shot attempts. They came into the game averaging over 40% of the FGA and just over 50% of the FGM. Those numbers look tame by comparison. Frazier really had it going.
Now, Pat Chambers learned from Jay Wright about turning loose dynamo guards, but that Penn State has to rely so heavily on just two players to have a chance to come up short against a good team has to be a concern for him when their B1G season starts.
Penn State has a chance to finish middle of the pack in the B1G, but they are either going to need some rapid development by the rest of the team. Frazier and Newbill cannot be expected to perform at this level every game, all season.
Needless to say, Pat Chambers got a little annoyed at the “lack of respect” for his team. Dare I say, defiant.
Asked a question of whether “proving you could play with (Pitt)” instead of losing by 37 like they did last time, Chambers politely answered it. And then he seemed to turn his annoyance level up a notch. Below is a transcript of the full exchange between Chambers and the media:
“Whether it’s Pitt or whoever in the Big Ten, I feel like we have a good solid team.
“And I hope people start taking us seriously. Because I feel like, and I know (the PSU players) were tired of everybody talking about us like we’re not a good team. ‘Aren’t you proud to be on the same floor?’ What does that mean? What does that really mean? We’re a good team, we’re a good basketball team, get used to it. How’s that sound?”
You don’t think people take you seriously?
“No. No, not at all.”
Why? I’m curious.
“I’m sure because of history.
“Our attitude has changed, our mindset has changed. We’re competing at a high level. We’re just not seeing great results the last two games, but we’re getting there.”
Does this game help along those lines?
“If you win it, yeah.”
Don’t you think beating Bucknell would help that?
“Yeah I agree.
“Nice low blow, but yeah I agree, you’re right.”
Oof. If you are wondering, the Bucknell question came from 93.7 The Fan’s Andrew Fillipponi. He knows how to troll and bait — opposing teams and Pitt fans as well.
Chambers was rather on edge by the end of the game, and those questions were not helping. Strangely for a guy who claims he wants to play Pitt regularly, most accounts of the post-game hand shake with Jamie Dixon were that Chambers blew through it. Given how often Dixon has not exactly hung around to chat with the opposing coach, though, I don’t read much into it. I mean, unless you are looking for an excuse to be “outraged” at something related to Penn State. Then, by all means, have at it.
Sticking with the PSU perspectives for just a little longer… (Why? Because it’s fun.)
Yes, it does appear that Chambers really was on edge after the game — even to PSU watchers:
Patrick Chambers walked into the media room with a stern face, looking ticked off after a tough loss.
He wanted this game badly. OK, the fiery coach wants every game badly.
But this was Penn State vs. Pitt, and it means a lot for bragging rights, for recruiting and perhaps most importantly, for perception.
Beat Pitt, which PSU hasn’t done in Pittsburgh since 1978 or anywhere since 2000, and the Nittany Lions would have earned a ton of basketball street cred, particularly in this state.
But they didn’t beat Pitt, falling 78-69 in a game they had a good chance to win at the Petersen Events Center.
It was a great game and a reminder that PSU, under Chambers, can indeed compete with Pitt. That hadn’t been the case since the Panthers have emerged as a national power, with Pitt dominating the last meeting in 2005 (91-54) and winning the previous four games by an average of 23 points.
So, yeah. Just like Duquesne on Saturday, Pitt got the opposing team’s best shot. A fired up team that really, really wanted the game. And regarding that Bucknell question…
It was sort of a cheap shot. But it also was true.
Penn State lost at home to Bucknell, 90-80, on Nov. 13, and when you give up 90 points to a team that’s now 3-4, that averages only 70 and was picked to finish fourth in the Patriot League, that kind of loss shapes perception.
The only thing that absolutely changes perception is winning. Moral victories, like the kind Penn State had Tuesday, don’t accomplish that.
I can guarantee you that Penn State fans hate this column. While Pitt fans who read it all will just nod along happily.
Beyond losing a game that they wanted really badly, what had Chambers so ticked? Well, the officiating probably bothered him.
The officials in this game struggled with consistency in calling drives to the lane under the new hand-checking and block-charge mandates. Every call went to the driver, reflecting the initiative to allow more freedom for ball-handlers and discourage floppers.
But a few calls each way seemed ridiculously ticky-tack or simply non-existent. A call that gave Frazier his third foul early in the second half was whistled when Pitt guard Cameron Wright tripped on his own and fell into Frazier.
Chambers: “They tried to get in our gaps. We got some tough calls against us. That’s life on the road.”
A reporter suggested PSU developed fear of fouling:
“You said it, I didn’t. But I would agree with that. I got guys with three and four fouls and they don’t want to foul. They’re backing off and that can hurt.”
Chambers also thought that Talib Zanna’s huge block late in the game was goaltending, but even the PSU writer thinks it was clean.
The officiating change is where I have been really impressed with what Coach Dixon has been doing. He understood what these rules meant and he has prepared Pitt for them. Yes, clearly Pitt’s defense has suffered at points and mistakes happen. But Pitt and Dixon aren’t complaining about this new reality. They have been ready.
Plus, up until the final 1:05 (when PSU fouled 4 times to try and come back) the foul calls were only 22-17 in Pitt’s favor. Hardly one-sided. The differences were that Pitt was fouled much more frequently attacking the basket and shooting. Hence the free throw shooting disparity even before the final minute. Plus, when you are such a short-rotation team like PSU every foul gets magnified.
Okay, to the Pitt side. That first half. Woof.
Pitt shot 28 percent from the field in the first half (7 of 25) but hit 58.6 percent (17 of 29) in the second by attacking the rim.
“It was not a good first half for us,” Dixon said. “We didn’t let things come to us, we were forcing stuff and trying to make plays and we were fortunate to get a win over a good team.
“But we thought we could get layups against them. We shot too many jump shots in the first half and we put them at the line too much. They are small and we had to attack them inside and they will be in foul trouble the way they play.
“We are a hard team to zone, so we knew we could get points at the rim and Talib [Zanna] did a nice job of scoring.”
Two things that stood out regarding Pitt’s shooting in the first half. Everything was off. So many shots that seemed to be right there that rolled off or wouldn’t go. The other was Mike Young struggling for a second straight game. He was 0-4 vs. Duquesne and went 0-5 last night.
Young showed some of that freshman inexperience last night, but he did what he could to make up for missing some point blanks by going 6-6 at the free throw line. That said, his struggles put him on the bench for most of the second half. Jamel Artis missed his opportunity by being late on defense.
Instead, Pitt used more Durand Johnson inside and Josh Newkirk played more than any other game this season — also aided by some caution with James Robinson after picking up a 3d foul early in the 2d half. Newkirk is already looking like a much better player than he was in the beginning of November. He looks a lot more comfortable with what he is supposed to do.
Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna were the ones that led the way for Pitt in the second half. Especially Zanna.
Zanna made 7 of 11 shots and scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half for the Panthers (8-0). The 6-foot-9 center also had 10 rebounds, a career-high four blocks and scored off a steal.
“That’s what you expect from one of your senior leaders, not just getting it done offensively but defensively with the steal and the blocked shot,” Patterson said of Zanna. “That’s Pitt basketball right there.”
Patterson added 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists, and he made a key 3-pointer with 4:24 remaining, then a pivotal three-point play with 1:04 left to give the Panthers a seven-point lead.
Zanna sparked the Panthers early in the second half, converting two three-point plays and then stripping Frazier near midcourt and scoring on a breakaway to give Pitt a 42-41 lead at 13:46.
“I thought Talib was really good the whole game,” Dixon said, “as far as being patient and letting the game come to him.”
After D.J. Newbill, who added 18 points for Penn State, scored to tie it at 47, Zanna answered with a jump hook and then went up and under for a 51-47 lead.
Seeing Zanna strip Frazier so cleanly was surreal. When the 6-9 guy is taking it from a 6-1 guard… I mean.
That strip was also why depth matters. Pitt had one other huge advantage in the second half. Their legs were much fresher. Newbill and Frazier aren’t just playing 33+ minutes every game. They have to do it with the ball and all the attention. They aren’t able to take a breath on the court. I don’t care how young, how conditioned you are. That takes a mental and physical toll. It started showing. Pitt took advantage of it as they should.