There are good vibes around the Palestra following Penn basketball’s 79-73 win over Monmouth on Tuesday.
But if the Quakers want to beat Penn State at home on Saturday and get a winning streak going, they’ll have to be on guard.
In more ways than one.
The Nittany Lions (1-1) boast one of the best backcourt duos in the country with point guard Tim Frazier and shooting guard D.J. Newbill, whom the Red and Blue (1-1) will be hard pressed to slow down.
Both Newbill and Frazier have tremendous scoring ability, with the former leading the Nittany Lions in scoring last year at 16.3 points per game and the latter earning all-Big Ten honors for his 2011-12 campaign, during which he averaged 18.8 points per contest.
But Frazier missed all but four games last season with a torn ACL and struggled in a 90-80 loss to Bucknell on Wednesday, turning the ball over five times while running the point and leading to questions about whether he’s ready to play at game speed.
“He’ll get there,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said after the loss.
“Being a player, I want to be the player that I am,” Frazier added. “I can’t have five turnovers.”
Even with Frazier not necessarily at 100 percent strength, the Quakers know that they can’t afford to let either player get going offensively.
“Both of them are really good at attacking the paint,” said Penn sophomore guard Jamal Lewis, who will likely be tasked with guarding Frazier on Saturday. “So we want to just control them, try to keep them out of the paint and hopefully we’ll get them out of their rhythm.”
But the biggest aid to the Quakers on the defensive side of the floor may be Newbill and Frazier themselves. Both struggled immensely with fouls in the loss to the Bison, with Newbill fouling out of the game and Frazier forced to play with four personals for much of the second half.
It’s all been a product of the NCAA’s new rules outlawing hand-checking, part of an overarching effort to increase scoring and offensive flow.
And as a result, teams everywhere have been forced to contend with whistle after whistle as they adjust to the new rules.
“[The rules] have had a lot of effects on a lot of games across the country,” Penn assistant coach Ira Bowman said. “I think either you’re going to take advantage of the rules or you’re going to be a victim of them.”
The Quakers were victimized somewhat by the rules in Tuesday’s win over the Hawks, as star forward Fran Dougherty was limited by four fouls of his own and Henry Brooks fouled out.
But in the wake of the victory, Penn has bigger concerns. Namely the fact that it got out-rebounded for the second consecutive game by a smaller opponent. The Red and Blue surrendered a whopping 23 offensive boards to Monmouth and came out behind on the overall rebounding margin, 49-43.
“[Rebounding’s] been a problem for us,” Penn head coach Jerome Allen said. “You’re not going to win too many ballgames if you continue to get pounded on the glass.”
But in spite of their rebounding woes, the Quakers were able to pull out a much-needed victory, displaying some impressive transition offense along the way.
Now the Red and Blue have a chance to get a winning streak going and build up some momentum, perhaps finally putting to bed memories of last year’s disastrous campaign.
And Allen knows it.
“This is the biggest game of the year for us because it’s all we’re worried about,” he said.
“We need to win this game.”
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