For coach Jerome Allen, Happy Valley could just as well be Death Valley, or the Grand Canyon.
Sure, Penn State is a Big 10 school. And sure, the level of competition will rally the Penn basketball team when it plays at Penn State on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Still, the Red and Blue underwhelmed in their first victory in six contests, defeating Binghamton by nine points on Wednesday, and for Allen, the team needs to be excited about another chance to get better, regardless of their opponent.
“People always try to come up with periphery story lines to give a team or a player motivation for something they shouldn’t need motivation for,” Allen said.
Still, in a year when Penn doesn’t have names like Duke or Kentucky on its schedule, Penn State can’t help but catch the eye of the players.
“It’s a date that you circle on the calendar,” junior Fran Dougherty said. “It’s a big state school, with a lot of scholarship athletes.”
On Saturday, the Nittany Lions will be missing one of those athletes, Tim Frazier, who tore his achilles tendon on Nov. 18 in a game against Akron. In the three games before Frazier went down with injury, he averaged 21.7 points and five assists, serving as an integral part of Penn State’s offense.
Even without Frazier, Penn State will pose a big challenge to the Quakers.
Allen stressed that, with Penn’s young squad, they need to change the manner in which they look at the game.
“We’re at the point now that we’re just focusing on small victories,” Allen said. “Focusing on winning that next possession, and trying to do that over the course of 40 minutes.”
The Quakers have begun to gel, especially on the defensive end.
“Defense is a team game, and we’ve been playing better defense of late,” Dougherty said.
The Quakers are still far too eager at times, leading to unnecessary fouls, something Dougherty believes can be fixed in practice.
“We get away with so many things at practice, since there are no referees,” he said. “And then we go into a game, and get the whistle blown. We just need to tighten up.”
All of these aspects aren’t about one particular player, making Allen’s focus on small victories logical.
However, on the offensive end, that team-first mentality may need to change.
Dougherty and captain Miles Cartwright have shown consistency in their ability to put points on the board, but right now, the Quakers look to a different player every game to be the third guy.
“We definitely need a third player to put up 10 points in a game,” Dougherty said. “It’s about finding your identity, and it’s uncomfortable at first, but eventually, someone steps up.”
Dougherty and Cartwright have been putting more pressure on players in practice to be more aggressive, but that is just as much of a process.
For now, as long as someone steps up, like junior Dau Jok did on Wednesday, the Quakers aren’t picky.
And in the same way, the Red and Blue will be excited to take on the Nittany Lions because, as Allen said, “it’s the next game on the schedule.”
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