STATE COLLEGE - Pat Chambers has gone from trying to show progress in his second year to trying to show even just one Big Ten victory.
His Penn State Nittany Lions dropped their 10th straight game in the Big Ten, 58-49 Tuesday night to Purdue. The game represented one of the best chances left on the schedule for a victory, with four days rest and a quarter-full Bryce Jordan Center that could lull any Big Ten team into a mid-winter nap.
But the Nittany Lions, the Big Ten's worst shooting team, shot 31 percent, had three players foul out, allowed a 19-5 run across halftime and several easy inside baskets in the second half.
Penn State (8-14, 0-10) still risks becoming the first team to go winless in Big Ten play since Northwestern in 1999-2000. Chambers went 12-20 in his first season at Penn State, but would have to play .500 over his last eight regular-season Big Ten games to just match that.
And while a season-ending Achilles injury to senior point guard Tim Frazier is still being felt, Chambers hoped his team was close to showing its improvement.
D.J. Newbill led the Nittany Lions with 17 points and a career-high 7 assists, but a season-low 7 points from second-leading scorer Jermaine Marshall and no other double-digit scorers showed a team unable to mount a charge. Penn State (2-for-20) and Purdue (0-for-10) finished with the worst two 3-point shooting games of any team in Big Ten play this season.
"We wouldn't be 0-10 if we had a third or a fourth option," said Chambers. "Where we lost it was the last four minutes of the first half, and the first four of the second half. We did a lot of good things but sometimes the ball just doesn't bounce your way."
Penn State opened a 21-12 lead late in the first half, but Purdue pulled within 25-24 at the half on a Donnie Hale putback.
The Boilermakers (12-11, 5-5) opened a 5-point lead early in the second half off another Hale putback before the Nittany Lions tied it at 33 on a Newbill layup.
Ronnie Johnson, a left-hander listed as a 6-foot guard but someone the 5-foot-10 Chambers said he looked down on, hit three straight layups and Purdue had at least a two-possession game the rest of the way.
Johnson scored 16 points, while freshman 7-footer A.J. Hammons scored 15 on 11-for-12 free throw shooting.
Penn State kept fouling Hammons forwards Sasa Borovnjak, Jon Graham and later guard Nick Colella fouled out, but had no answer for Johnson, whom Chambers compared to former NBA great Nate Archibald.
"Tiny, quick, and fast and he hits those circus shots," said Chambers. "He's talented and we have problems with quick guards. There's no denying that."
The Lions' best last push came when, down 52-47 with 3 minutes to play, they forced Terone Johnson into an off-balance miss before the shot-clock buzzer. But on the next possession, Colella forced a quick but wide-open NBA-range 3-pointer that sailed off-line.
Terone Johnson then hit a layup for a 7-point lead and all that was left was for Purdue to run out the clock.
Purdue kept Marshall in check by limiting his options off ball screens and by denying him the ball in the paint, which coach Matt Painter said leads to his hitting mid-range shots. The win ended a two-game skid for Purdue, which had lost by 37 to Indiana and 15 at Northwestern, and helped the Boilermakers avoid the chronic trap of careless better teams suffering defeats in front of lethargic and small BJC crowds.
"It was one of those games where you have to grind it out," said Painter. "I wish we could make our free throws down the stretch, but we had momentum for the second half."
Chambers said he told the team during a timeout called with 12 seconds to play not to get down, and to play hard for not just the rest of Tuesday's defeat but Saturday at Nebraska and beyond for the rest of the season into the next one. He thought if his team could play more full games like it did for the first 12-16 minutes of this one good things could happen.
"Every game is tough, and every loss is tougher," said Newbill. "We have to keep getting better every day and keep pushing. I thought we deserved a win and we'll get one."
Hammons 2-5 11-12 15, T. Johnson 3-12 1-2 7, R. Johnson 7-12 2-8 16, Byrd 0-6 2-2 2, Davis 3-6 2-5 8, A. Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Toyra 0-0 0-0 0, Hale 5-8 0-0 10, Carroll 0-0 0-0 0, Marcius 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-49 18-29 58.
PENN ST. (8-14)
Taylor 2-8 0-0 5, Borovnjak 3-6 1-2 7, Newbill 6-14 5-6 17, Marshall 2-14 3-5 7, Colella 1-6 0-0 3, Maduegbunam 0-1 0-0 0, Jack 0-1 0-0 0, Graham 1-4 0-0 2, Travis 4-8 0-0 8. Totals 19-62 9-13 49.
Halftime-Penn St. 25-24. 3-Point Goals-Purdue 0-10 (Davis 0-1, T. Johnson 0-3, Byrd 0-6), Penn St. 2-20 (Colella 1-6, Taylor 1-6, Maduegbunam 0-1, Newbill 0-2, Marshall 0-5). Fouled Out-Borovnjak, Colella, Graham. Rebounds-Purdue 42 (Hammons 12), Penn St. 37 (Travis 8). Assists-Purdue 8 (Byrd 4), Penn St. 10 (Newbill 7). Total Fouls-Purdue 14, Penn St. 24. A-6,270.