UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State has a promotion going in which fans attending a game when the Nittany Lions score 70 points at the Bryce Jordan Center get a free Big Mac.
It's worked out great ... for McDonald's.
The fast food giant has barely had to pay off this season. Without the scoring beef that injured guard Tim Frazier delivered, the Nittany Lions' anemic offense is leaving the basket as empty as Penn State supporters' bellies. Consequently, a program hungry for wins is starving at 0-8 in the Big Ten following Saturday afternoon's 65-51 loss to nationally ranked Ohio State.
It was a shame, too, because it wasted a pretty good defensive performance by the Lions.
The Penn State faithful might need to get used to it, though. Beyond a game at Nebraska in two weeks, there just don't look like many chances in the Lions' final 10 contests that could get the team into the win column. There are home-and-homes with Michigan and Iowa, trips to Minnesota, Illinois and Northwestern and visits to the BJC by Purdue and Wisconsin.
The thing is, this isn't football. In this conference and in this day and age of men's college basketball, you need more than a good defensive team. You need point producers, guys that can get their own shot and can make open shots. The Nittany Lions just don't have enough of them.
"I feel like we're close. If we just could get a third scorer," Lion coach Patrick Chambers lamented in the postgame press conference after his team made just 36.2 percent from the field, 23.5 percent from 3-point range and compounded those woes by missing nine free throws in being held to 54 points or less for the sixth time in conference play. "Guys that have open shots have got to stick them. That's the bottom line. Jermaine [Marshall] and D.J. [Newbill] are doing their part. We need that third and fourth guy to step up."
Unfortunately, the options are limited. As Rick Pitino might say, Jesse Arnelle, Pete Lisicky, Joe Crispin and Talor Battle are not walking through that door. Someone like John Amaechi would be welcome, bringing a physical presence inside who could get the Lions a few cheap buckets via offensive rebounds to ensure scoring lulls like the 11-minute span without a field goal against the Buckeyes in the first half completely destroy the team's chances.
Perhaps Brandon Taylor could be one of the answers, but the 6-foot-7, 235-pound freshman still is adjusting to playing the perimeter. Against Ohio State, he was 1-for-8 from beyond the arc, while Chambers implored him to keep shooting.
"He's not shooting the ball real well right now, but he's a good shooter, and he's made shots before in games," Chambers said. "I don't want him, as a freshman, to lose his confidence."
That could be said for a lot of players in Chambers' rotation, which is among the youngest in the Big Ten.
The maddening thing about Saturday's offensive performance was Penn State only turned the ball over four times. Chambers, Newbill and Marshall all said they were pleased with the shots the Lions were getting.
"I thought we were getting good looks. We were missing some shots we usually make," Newbill said.
The Lions, though, only came in shooting 39 percent as a team. This year's Big Ten isn't very forgiving for anyone squandering opportunities, and, getting over that mental hurdle is just something the Lions are going to have to find a way to do.
"There's a lot of talented players. I think [our shooters] are getting a little sped up. Guys [in the Big Ten] are a little bit longer, a little bit more athletic and a little bit more physical," Chambers said. "We've got to get used to that."
Of course, while Chambers said he doesn't let himself think about it, things probably would have been dramatically different had Frazier not torn his Achilles' tendon four games into the season. He led the Big Ten in assists and was second in scoring last season and was capable of breaking down a defense or creating offense in transition, another area where Penn State is lacking.
"You have that guy, and it's proven over time, what he can do. And suddenly it's taken from you," Ohio State coach Thad Motta said. "You've got to attempt to find a way, but that's a detrimental loss when you're attempting to build a program."
Ultimately, it could work to Penn State's advantage when Frazier comes back to reboot his senior year in 2013-14 with most of his fellow Nittany Lions returning. Chambers appears to be playing for the future.
"Throw the record out. We're getting better," Chambers said. "You might not see it, but I see it."
Penn State fans, though, could use a little more visual evidence. If only to whet their appetites.
Cmor can be reached at 946-7440 or firstname.lastname@example.org.