UNIVERSITY PARK - With his team trailing struggling Northwestern 33-16 late in the first half at the Jordan Center Thursday night, Pat Chambers' body language said it all. The usually ebullient coach squatted near the corner of the scorers' table, a towel in his hand and a look of utter frustration on his face.
It was going to be a long night. It is going to be a long season.
"That was embarrassing," Chambers said after the game. "That's the first time I've said that in the year and a half I've been here."
Fresh off blowout losses to Michigan and Minnesota, the Wildcats entered this game 0-2 in the Big Ten and without standout forward Drew Crawford (shoulder injury). They promptly blasted the Nittany Lions, 70-54, as PSU fell to 8-7 on the season and 0-3 in the Big Ten.
Considering Chambers' bunch was actually favored by two points in this game - which will be a rarity in a conference with six ranked teams - Thursday's result was disappointing on every level.
Chambers began his postgame press conference with a statement in which he ripped himself.
"I have to do a much better job of preparing my team and getting them ready to play," he said, his voice rising as he spoke. "This one's on me. We did not play with any energy or enthusiasm."
Things got away from Penn State midway through the first half. Leading 12-8, suddenly the Lions could not make a shot, going two of their next 15 heading into the break. The poor shooting led to frustration, which in turn led to poor defense. It didn't help that the refs seemed quick on their whistles.
It all amounted to a 25-6 Wildcat run that blew it open. Trailing 33-18 at the half to an outfit that runs a patient Princeton-style offense, there would be no spirited comeback - something the PSU football team seems to do every season against Northwestern.
Asked what was going through his mind late in the half, Chambers said, "I was just disappointed. You're not playing hard. I felt like we were going through the motions. Again, my fault."
And yet it only got worse in the second half. Early on, 6-foot-1 Wildcat guard Dave Sobolweski strolled down the lane and scored with no resistance. That prompted Chambers to pull starting center Sasa Borovnjak. On NU's next possession, forward Kale Abrahamson bombed in a 30-footer to make it 41-20. The margin would grow as wide as 23 (56-33) with 7:47 remaining.
Individually, guards D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall led the Lions with 20 and 13 points, respectively. But even they were ice cold, going a combined 10 of 31 from the field. Rookie forward Brandon Taylor was 1 of 6 and sophomore forward Ross Travis 2 of 7. As a team, PSU shot 18 of 57 and missed 22 shots in the paint.
"We're missing point-blank layups," Chambers said. "But where does that start? Maybe there are distractions."
The Lions themselves did not have a chance to take any blame - none were made available to the media after the game.
To his credit, Chambers returned to his typical sideline form in the second half - bouncing around, hollering at the officials and barking out instructions to his players. But when he needed a break, he was back squatting at the corner of the scorers' table, his chin in his hand.
The towel, not yet thrown in, was resting at his feet.
"I've got to figure it out, fast," Chambers said. "Again, that's my job."
Game notes: Northwestern improved to 10-6 and 1-2 in the Big Ten after losing its first two conference games by a combined 46 points. ... Sobolweski led four Wildcats in doubles with 18 points. ... Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien watched the game from baseline seats near the PSU bench. He was joined by strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald. ... Penn State plays its third game in six days when it faces Purdue in West Lafayette Sunday. It tips at noon and can be seen on the BTN.
NORTHWESTERN (10-6): Swopshire 5-8 6-8 17, Abrahamson 3-6 1-2 10, Olah 1-2 0-1 2, Sobolewski 7-14 1-2 18, Hearn 3-7 7-11 14, Jimenez 0-0 0-0 0, Marcotullio 0-4 2-2 2, Turner 1-1 0-0 2, Demps 2-5 0-0 5, Montgomery III 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-48 17-26 70.
PENN ST. (8-7): Taylor 1-6 0-0 2, Borovnjak 2-5 3-5 7, Travis 2-7 0-0 4, Newbill 6-19 8-9 20, Marshall 4-12 3-3 13, Maduegbunam 0-0 0-0 0, Jack 0-1 0-0 0, Montminy 1-1 1-1 3, Colella 1-4 0-0 3, Graham 1-2 0-0 2, Wisniewski 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-57 15-18 54.
Halftime-Northwestern 33-18. 3-Point Goals-Northwestern 9-22 (Abrahamson 3-5, Sobolewski 3-6, Swopshire 1-1, Demps 1-2, Hearn 1-3, Montgomery III 0-1, Marcotullio 0-4), Penn St. 3-15 (Marshall 2-6, Colella 1-3, Travis 0-1, Taylor 0-2, Newbill 0-3). Fouled Out-None. Rebounds-Northwestern 33 (Olah 8), Penn St. 37 (Travis 9). Assists-Northwestern 12 (Sobolewski 5), Penn St. 7 (Newbill 3). Total Fouls-Northwestern 16, Penn St. 23. A-NA.