MADISON, Wis. — As Penn State basketball coach Patrick Chambers demonstrated on Wednesday, he’ll do anything to inspire a fan base and garner extra support for a fledgling program.
Chambers stood behind the counter at a McDonald’s in State College, Penn., on Wednesday afternoon and handed out Big Macs — for which he footed the bill — to the first 200 students who brought in their ticket stub from the team’s previous home game against Nebraska or wore a T-shirt from the student section. The unusual gesture came four days after his Nittany Lions failed to reach 70 points at home, the benchmark for free Big Macs during a season-long promotion.
Penn State defeated Nebraska 67-51 but didn’t score in the final two minutes, much to the dismay of the student section. In exchange for the hamburgers, Chambers encouraged students to continue supporting the program during Penn State’s home game against Iowa on Thursday.
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The Nittany Lions won again — and fell one point shy of the Big Mac threshold — in a 69-64 victory against the Hawkeyes.
No such promotion exists at Wisconsin, and that’s probably a good thing for fans who would almost certainly come away disappointed when the two teams meet at 3 p.m. CT Sunday in the Kohl Center.
No. 15 Wisconsin (19-7, 8-5 in Big Ten play) has reached 70 points just once in 13 Big Ten games and has allowed 70 or more points once during the entire season. Penn State (12-15, 4-10), which is riding its first two-game winning streak since December, has eclipsed the 70-point plateau only once in Big Ten games.
The reasons for the low-scoring affairs aren’t difficult to discern.
Penn State is one of the worst shooting teams in the entire country. The Nittany Lions rank 330th out of 346 Division I teams in shooting percentage, at 38.8 percent. It is the worst mark for any team in a BCS conference this season.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, is tied for third nationally in field-goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 36.8 percent. The Badgers also play the slowest-paced game of any team in the country, averaging 59.4 possessions per game.
When the two teams met earlier this season, Wisconsin won 52-46 on the road. It was a game in which neither team shot better than 36 percent from the field.
“They took us to the wire down there,” Badgers forward Mike Bruesewitz said. “It was a two-point game at one time. So we can’t overlook them. They’re going to come in here and play hard and compete and we’ve got to make sure we match their intensity.”
Penn State continues to be led by point guard Tim Frazier, who paces the team in points (18.4), assists (6.3), rebounds (5.0) and steals (2.2). Frazier is the only returning player among the Nittany Lions’ top five scorers from a year ago, and that has meant quite a struggle offensively for the rest of the team.
The Nittany Lions are averaging 62.1 points per game, which ranks 290th in the nation.
“They may not be the best team, but they’re always going to scrap and fight,” Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor said. “It’s never an easy game when it’s against Penn State.”
Wisconsin is coming off a 69-55 loss at Michigan State in which the Badgers did not lead for the final 28 minutes and eventually trailed by as many as 21 points. The defeat knocked Wisconsin two games out of the top spot in the Big Ten, behind both Michigan State and Ohio State.
“Our margin for error is small,” Badgers assistant coach Greg Gard said. “So any time we hit our tee shots in the water to begin with, we don’t have many mulligans in our pockets. We have to make sure that we play as precise to our gameplan as possible and play to who we are.”
If Wisconsin sticks to its plan, it’s unlikely that either team will be pushing the 70-point threshold on Sunday.