As Big Ten's best stumble, Penn State has a winning streak

As Big Ten's best stumble, Penn State has a winning streak
February 4, 2014, 3:45 pm
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Vinnie Duber

Patrick Chambers needs one more win.

One more victory for Penn State this season would give Chambers his highest win total in his three years as the head coach of the Nittany Lions. Victories rarely come at Penn State, especially in Big Ten season, but that’s not necessarily the case this year.

Sure, the Lions started off conference play with six straight losses. But since, they’ve rattled off three straight wins — including a huge road upset of Ohio State — and there’s a better brand of basketball being played in Happy Valley.

“Obviously our team’s playing a lot better,” Chambers said during Monday’s Big Ten coaches teleconference. “There’s a lot more cohesion on the floor and a better understanding of what we’re trying to do. I think it’s really been our defense that’s picked things up for us. ... The play of Tim (Frazier) and D.J. (Newbill), obviously D.J. over the last couple games has played great. And the insertion of Graham Woodward has really balanced our starting lineup. So we’ve got to keep playing, got to keep competing. That’s the goal.”

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Earlier this season, Penn State was turning heads thanks to their dynamic guard duo of Frazier and Newbill, who for a period during the non-conference season both ranked atop the Big Ten scoring list. Though the wins weren’t coming as frequent as Frazier’s and Newbill’s points were.

That became especially true once conference play began, and the two guards started to cool off, too. The point totals came down, and the two had problems just staying on the court. Frazier fouled out of a pair of games, and Newbill was ejected from a game against the Illini in Champaign.

But then came a win over Nebraska, that huge win at Ohio State and the latest win over Purdue. That’s a winning streak, and it’s lifted the Lions out of last place.

Chambers and Penn State can thank a larger number of players figuring things out for the recent success, but it’s been the resurgence of Frazier and Newbill that has meant the most over the past three games. Frazier’s scored 37 points over the last three, including a big night against the Buckeyes that included eight points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

“Tim’s only going to continue to get better. I don’t think he’s playing his best basketball right now, although he’s filling the stat sheet very nicely,” Chambers said. “He’s only two assists away from being the all-time assists leader in Penn State history. But at Ohio State he had 10 rebounds, seven assists. He fills the stat sheet, and we need that from our point guard.”

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Newbill, meanwhile, has been even more prolific. The reigning Big Ten Co-Player of the Week is averaging 20 points during this streak, including 25 points and eight boards against Ohio State. Newbill ranks fifth in the league scoring, and Frazier isn’t far behind in ninth place.

Winning on the hardwood at Penn State has often been difficult, hence the noteworthiness of a three-game streak. But the Lions are going to have an extremely difficult time pushing it to four, with Michigan State up next. But this isn’t the same group that lost six games in a row to start conference play. Chambers knows that. Though his career-high number of wins at Penn State might not come vs. the Spartans, there’s a good chance it’ll come at some point during the season’s final nine games.

“We’re a different team,” Chambers said. “We’re a different team than we were in the non-conference, we’re a different team than we were in the first six games. Getting these guys on the same page ... and these freshmen stepping up and playing with more poise and courage, we’re just a different team. And my goal is to get better these next few days and compete when we go to Michigan State.”