Giger: Chambers fired up after loss, angry about perception of PSU hoops
PITTSBURGH – Patrick Chambers walked into the media room with a stern face, looking ticked off after a tough loss.
He wanted this game badly. OK, the fiery coach wants every game badly.
But this was Penn State vs. Pitt, and it means a lot for bragging rights, for recruiting and perhaps most importantly, for perception.
Beat Pitt, which PSU hasn’t done in Pittsburgh since 1978 or anywhere since 2000, and the Nittany Lions would have earned a ton of basketball street cred, particularly in this state.
But they didn’t beat Pitt, falling 78-69 in a game they had a good chance to win at the Petersen Events Center.
It was a great game and a reminder that PSU, under Chambers, can indeed compete with Pitt. That hadn’t been the case since the Panthers have emerged as a national power, with Pitt dominating the last meeting in 2005 (91-54) and winning the previous four games by an average of 23 points.
This is not that Penn State team or program, and Chambers must have felt a burning need to make sure everyone knows it.
“I hope people start taking us seriously,” he said angrily. “We’re tired of everybody talking about we’re not a good team. We’re a good team. We’re a good basketball team. Get used to it.”
Does he think people believe it’s a good team?
“No, not at all,” he said.
“I’m sure because of history,” he replied.
“I feel like we can compete every night, whether it’s Pitt or whoever in the Big Ten,” the coach added. “I feel like we have a good, solid team.”
Then came a haymaker of a question, thrown from the second row of the packed media room. It was from a Pittsburgh media member, one who had been listening to what Chambers was saying about how people should respect Penn State but didn’t seem to buy into it.
“Don’t you think beating Bucknell would help that?”
Chambers didn’t flinch. He could have flipped out like a Bob Knight, Jim Boeheim or Jim Calhoun would have, but instead he answered truthfully.
“Yeah, I agree,” he said before curtly adding, “Nice low blow, by the way.”
It was sort of a cheap shot. But it also was true.
Penn State lost at home to Bucknell, 90-80, on Nov. 13, and when you give up 90 points to a team that’s now 3-4, that averages only 70 and was picked to finish fourth in the Patriot League, that kind of loss shapes perception.
The only thing that absolutely changes perception is winning. Moral victories, like the kind Penn State had Tuesday, don’t accomplish that.
The Lions proved they can play with Pitt. No doubt about it.
But that shouldn’t have been a surprise. They had the best player on the court in Tim Frazier (27 points) and perhaps the second-best player in D.J. Newbill (18 points).
But Pitt won because it has the better team.
Because it has more balance.
Because it has the size and strength that Chambers dreams of having but can’t seem to get at Penn State.
And because the game was played in an exceptional basketball facility where Pitt virtually never loses to a non-conference team (106-3 all-time).
When it comes to the big picture, the primary difference between the two teams, the two programs, is simple:
Pitt goes into every game expecting to win, and usually does. Penn State goes into big games hoping to win, mostly because it usually loses them.
Chambers is doing a very good job, and in time maybe he can turn the Lions into a consistent threat in the Big Ten. And by consistent, that means making the NCAA Tournament six or eight times a decade, not once or twice.
Still, Chambers is right. He has a good team this year, and anyone who believes otherwise doesn’t understand just how good Frazier and Newbill are and that they will be able to keep the Lions competitive against just about anybody.
“I considered them a good team when I saw them beat St. John’s,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.
Others will take into consideration how the Lions played so well against Pitt, and that will further the argument that they absolutely should be taken seriously.
The next step, though, is the big one for Chambers and Penn State. Because the next step is the Lions closing the deal late and winning their fair share of big games, not just playing well for most of them, along with avoiding losing bad games at home to the likes of Bucknell.
Until Penn State accomplishes both of those goals, the perception problem that Chambers despises won’t entirely disappear.
Follow Giger on Twitter @Cory Giger