If the Penn State basketball team hopes to improve significantly from last season's 10-21 showing, better long-range shooting is imperative. The Nittany Lions finished last in the Big Ten in 3-point percentage (29.6) and -- by no small coincidence - last in the conference standings.
So among the many good signs from Sunday's exhibition blowout (98-61) of NAIA Division II Northwood (Fla.) at the Jordan Center Sunday, none was more encouraging than State's performance from beyond the arc.
PSU dropped 12 of 27 triples, with six different Lions dialing in from long distance. Third-year coach Pat Chambers said the performance was a continuation of what his team has been doing in practice.
“We're shooting the ball well,” Chambers said. “We've worked extremely hard in the off-season on our skill set, and I think it's showing. It's coming through. … I think it's important.”
“We had a lot of guys in double figures, and everybody shot the ball well,” added senior guard Tim Frazier. “…That's just a testament to guys putting in the work in the summer and the fall, and just practicing their jumpers night in and night out.”
Seven different Lions reached double figures, but Frazier (11 points, six assists) was one of only two of them who did not make at least one 3-pointer to get there. That was just as well. After missing most of last season with a ruptured Achilles, he is being counted on to be the slashing, scoring point guard he was when he earned All-Big Ten honors in 2011-12.
“It was an amazing feeling,” he said of taking the floor in a game for the first time in more than 11 months. “I had jitters running through my veins and my body.”
The entire team did. Hall of Fame coach Rollie Massimino's Seahawks took advantage by opening the game with an 11-2 run before Chambers called timeout to settle his troops.
“I told them to relax and exhale,” Chambers said.
Penn State led 52-30 at the break, and was already 7 of 15 from the arc. Taylor made 3 of 7. Besides Newbill and Travis, backup guards Graham Woodard and Allen Roberts were also 1 of 1 from the 3-point line in the half.
According to Chambers, improving the perimeter shooting was a focus in the off-season. And it was not just repetition and tweaking form. The Lions have also worked on better ball movement, so players are in optimal position to shoot when they get the rock.
“When you put it right in their chest, the percentage will go up,” Chmabers explained. “That's something we've been working on for six months. I think you saw it today. We had a lot of good (passes).”
While Frazier said the team's staples will always be defense and rebounding, he acknowledged how vital improved 3-point shooting can be.
“If we can knock down shots like we did today, we're gonna be a great team,” he said.
The first step, however, is becoming a good one.
• Chambers and Massimino became friends when the former was an assistant at Villanova under Jay Wright. Wright had previously been an assistant under Massimino at 'Nova. Massimino called Chambers to schedule this exhibition and is still very fond of him. “You can see he's a go-getter kind of young man. He's gonna turn this program around. There's no doubt in my mind.”
• Chambers took Massimino to the Penn State-Illinois football game Saturday. “People don't even know who I am. But they know who he is,” Chambers said with a smile.
• Newbill was played 18 minutes before leaving the game with a minor knee injury. Chambers said he should be fine for Saturday's season opener with Wagner at the BJC (4 p.m. tip).
• Freshman forward Julian Moore is recovering from a concussion and missed the game.
• Transfer guard John Johnson, who is not eligible to play until late December, had an immobilizer on his right foot on the bench. Chambers said he had a bunion removed and should be fine.
• Box score: