Penn State fired up to host No. 24 Minnesota (Jan 14, 2017)

BY AP • January 13, 2017

Penn State coach Patrick Chambers had to cut the Nittany Lions' basketball practice short by about 15 minutes Monday when things got testy inside the Bryce Jordan Center practice gym.

That's a good thing.

"It got so competitive and so heated, I don't remember the last time I saw it," Chambers said. "The fact that they're that feisty, that they want to continue to get better showed me something that they expected to win on Saturday and if we have that mentality, we're going to find success."

Their next test awaits Saturday afternoon when No. 24 Minnesota arrives in Happy Valley for a noon showdown.

Although the Golden Gophers (15-3, 3-2 Big Ten) stumbled in a Wednesday loss to the Michigan State, who Penn State beat for the first time in Chambers' six-year tenure on Saturday, Penn State's coach is anticipating a tough test. The Gophers are the Big Ten's best rebounding team in the defensive end (29.2), lead the conference in blocked shots (118) and don't give up easy baskets as opponents are making just 38 percent of their field goals -- worst in the Big Ten -- against Minnesota's defense.

Meanwhile, the Gophers can match their best conference start in eight years with a win against the Nittany Lions (10-7, 2-2).

It's not enough for Minnesota coach Richard Pitino to be pleased with his team's status.

Pitino wasn't happy with the Gophers being "knocked down on our butts" on multiple screens in Wednesday's 65-47 loss to Michigan State. In addition, the Spartans dominated on the glass with 42 rebounds to Minnesota's 29 and won the loose ball battle 6-2.

"Top to bottom, when it comes to physicality, toughness, they got us." Pitino said. "They just totally out-toughed us in every aspect. We've got to learn from that. I made the comment that we looked young, and we did."

Pitino's comments were strikingly similar to those of Chambers just a few weeks ago. Penn State's coach used the exact terms -- highlighting his team being out-toughed and looking young -- following an 87-77 loss to Northwestern.

But it's one of those youngsters -- sophomore guard Josh Reaves -- who's helped inject attitude in the lineup. Along with upperclassmen Shep Garner and Payton Banks, Reaves was especially competitive in Monday's practice that had Chambers feeling good about his team heading into the weekend.

Rebounding for a win against the Spartans following a disastrous loss to Michigan last week where the Nittany Lions let a 14-point lead slip away with 12:41 left has done wonders for their confidence.

"We're on a little bit of rollercoaster but we've played three really good games so I'm hoping for that consistency as we approach this weekend," Chambers said. "I didn't give them 'I told you so' yet. But I think what I see in practice is a team that's not relaxed. A team that's not content or complacent thinking, 'oh we won a big game, we finally arrived or figured it out.'"


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