UNIVERSITY?PARK - Pat Chambers never wanted to use wins and losses as a gauge during his first season as Penn State basketball coach.
That was fair, given his short offseason stemming from a June hiring and a team without fourstarters from last year's NCAA qualifier.
So perhaps the Nittany Lions' 80-66 loss to the Minnesota Golden Gophers Sunday at the Bryce Jordan Center shouldn't be noted for being the first time Chambers has fallen below .500 this season. Rather, consider it a gauge to the difficulty facing Chambers in trying to build a consistent winner. The opposing coach has a national title, albeit from Kentucky. His school has two national titles, but in football.
Sunday was an opportunity for Penn State (9-10, 1-5 Big Ten) to beat another young and rebuilding team, but it shot just 27 percent in the second half as the Gophers (14-5, 2-5) pulled away after a two-point halftime lead.
Chambers, who has taken blame for losses all season, laughed in the postgame press conference when asked if the losses were getting to the team, and if 52 combined fouls, some critical, threw his players off pace. Instead, he wanted to talk about his principles of playing together, hard, smart, and with pride.
"The formula works, it's up to them to execute and get it done," said Chambers. "But we're going to continue. The world's not going to end. We stay positive in a good environment, we'll have confidence."
Five straight points by Jermaine Marshall pulled the Lions within 62-57 with 4:06 to go, but his 3-pointer off a missed free throw and layup following a Tim Frazier steal proved to be a last gasp, not a fresh restart. Minnesota led 66-57 less than a minute later after Julian Welsh's putback on a missed free throw, and Penn State never came closer than two baskets again.
Marshall finished 4-for-19 from the floor and Frazier was 5-for-15. The Nittany Lions' most reliable scoring came from Cammeron Woodyard and his career-high 22 points off the bench, highlighted by 8-for-8 from the line. Woodyard said a hamstring injury is better, but not 100 percent healed. Trey Lewis sat with an unclear lower back issue.
Free throws kept the Nittany Lions in the game, where they shot 23-for-28. But the Lions committed 29 fouls and the Gophers shot 44 free throws, both season highs in Penn State games. The whistles may have also prevented the Lions from establishing any shooting rhythm, though Woodyard and Frazier tried to deny it. Chambers really wasn't so sure.
"Sometimes it feels like a road game when you're at home. The other team is playing hard, and sometimes the refs see that," said Chambers, who did not want to criticize the officiating. "We definitely need to play defense and rebound and compete and we didn't do that tonight."
Two flagrant fouls also hurt Penn State in the second half. The first, against Matt Glover two minutes in, doubled Minnesota's lead to 8 on two Joe Coleman free throws and a Rodney Williams dunk.
The second, against Ross Travis with 11 minutes to play, led to 5 points on two Williams free throws and an Austin Hollins 3-pointer as the Gophers kept possession.
"It always comes down to us and our approach to the games, and the walk-through, and the film," said Chambers, who said teams that play hard early tend to have fewer issues with officiating. "I didn't get that sense of urgency."
The Gophers' Joe Coleman, a freshman guard, led all players with 23 points. Minnesota's win came off a victory at No. 7 Indiana on Thursday that ended an 0-4 Big Ten start. It's been a tough season for coach Tubby Smith, whose team lost forward Trevor Mbakwe to an ACL in the fall after he averaged a double-double last season.
Minnesota's best win before Indiana was likely Bucknell in the season opener, as the Gophers have 3 true freshmen, 2 redshirt freshmen, and two junior college transfers.
Smith wanted to keep the ball away from Billy Oliver Sunday after watching him sink 7 3-pointers vs. Purdue in Penn State's lone Big Ten victory.
"He was a marked man," said Smith. "We wanted to make him put it on the floor."
Penn State is off until this Thursday vs. Illinois, its only game this year on ESPN2.
"Big Ten Network, ESPN, it doesn't matter," said Chambers, more concerned with his team's attitude. "We could play in a CYO gym for all I care if we don't do that."
MINNESOTA (14-5): Williams 3-5 8-11 14, Sampson III 2-3 0-0 4, Welch 5-8 3-5 15, Coleman 5-8 13-14 23, Au. Hollins 3-3 4-4 12, An. Hollins 0-0 2-2 2, Osenieks 0-1 0-0 0, Ahanmisi 0-3 1-2 1, Armelin 2-6 0-2 5, Eliason 1-1 2-4 4. Totals 21-38 33-44 80.
PENN ST. (9-10): Graham 1-3 0-0 2, Oliver 0-2 1-2 1, Glover 1-1 2-5 4, Marshall 4-19 2-2 12, Frazier 5-15 7-8 20, Montminy 0-0 0-0 0, Colella 0-0 0-0 0, Borovnjak 0-2 1-1 1, Woodyard 6-14 8-8 22, Travis 1-4 2-2 4. Totals 18-60 23-28 66.
Halftime-Minnesota 33-31. 3-Point Goals-Minnesota 5-10 (Au. Hollins 2-2, Welch 2-3, Armelin 1-4, Osenieks 0-1), Penn St. 7-24 (Frazier 3-5, Woodyard 2-8, Marshall 2-9, Oliver 0-2). Fouled Out-Glover, Sampson III, Travis. Rebounds-Minnesota 33 (Williams 8), Penn St. 35 (Travis 8). Assists-Minnesota 13 (Au. Hollins 5), Penn St. 7 (Frazier 5). Total Fouls-Minnesota 23, Penn St. 29. A-9,065.