Giger: Poor showing in loss to Bucknell a troubling sign for PSU

UNIVERSITY PARK — It’s troubling and, frankly, just not acceptable, especially not with how the game played out.

Penn State can’t get torched for 90 points at home against a Patriot League team and feel good about much of anything.

Yes, Bucknell has a very good program. The Bison went to the NCAA Tournament last season, their fourth trip in eight years, and they deserve a lot of respect for being an established mid-major.

Maybe there’s no shame in losing to them. But in this case it’s incredibly perplexing when you consider that Penn State beat Bucknell last year (60-57), despite playing without injured star Tim Frazier, and the Bison were a much better club then, led by standout center Mike Muscala.

Penn State is supposed to be better, and Bucknell is supposed to be worse.

This spunky Bison team is very well coached, but it has three new starters and was picked to finish fourth in the Patriot League.

Even Bucknell’s coach, Dave Paulsen, flat out admitted, “This is a relatively inexperienced team.”

If the Nittany Lions are going to lose at home and play as poorly defensively as they did against the fourth-best team in the Patriot League, then it’s hard to like their chances against just about anybody in the Big Ten.

This is Patrick Chambers’ third season at PSU, he has his star point guard back in Frazier and he has a very good shooting guard in D.J. Newbill. It was obvious going in that Bucknell would be a good early season barometer for the Nittany Lions, but there’s just no excuse for giving up 90 points, the most PSU has allowed in Chambers’ tenure.

Chambers made a very peculiar comment after the game about his defenders being in position to contest shots.

“It wasn’t like we weren’t there,” he said.

But they weren’t.

Penn State’s defenders had trouble all night closing out on 3-point shooters. The Bison moved the ball efficiently, got the ball to the open guys and buried shot after shot.

Bucknell was 9-of-11 from 3-point territory at one point in taking a 64-60 lead with 9:52 left. The Bison finished 10-of-15 beyond the arc and shot 61 percent (28-of-46) overall.

Even wide open, the Bison deserve credit for burying their 3-pointers.

“The bottom line is they made a ton of shots,” Chambers said. “There’s no denying that.”

The coach added that any time his team scores 80 points, it should win. That’s absolutely correct.

“I’m not worried about our offense; I’m worried about our defense,” Chambers said before adding, “We’ve got to make some major adjustments.”

Penn State played a sloppy game in beating Wagner in the season opener, 74-62, and followed it up with the disheartening home loss to Bucknell. The sky isn’t falling by any means, but surely Chambers can’t be happy with what he’s seen so far.

This is a very important season for Chambers because, unlike last year when Frazier went down, this team has some expectations. It does, on paper, appear to be good enough to finish above .500 and at least make the NIT. With Frazier and Newbill, some people even think the Lions can make a run at the NCAA Tournament.

When you have those kind of expectations, and the realization that a star like Frazier is in his final season, then Chambers now has to be viewed a little differently in year three.

The roster was a mess when he took over for Ed DeChellis, so he got a pass in year one.

Frazier got hurt last year, so he got another pass.

But there’s no pass this year. The Lions need to show real progress — in the win-loss column, not just playing competitively — and live up to some of the preseason expectations.

Losing at home to Bucknell while giving up 90 points in the second game of the season is about as far away from progress as it gets.

Follow Giger on Twitter @CoryGiger.