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Lions hoping to loosen up

It's called "pressing" -- an athlete wants so badly to succeed that he winds up trying so hard -- too hard -- that he undermines his own efforts.

D.J. Newbill (2) is 18-of-61 (30 percent) from the field in Big Ten play.

"It's like a golfer who's squeezing the golf club," Penn State basketball coach Patrick Chambers said Monday, "or the baseball player who's got blisters on his hands because he's just squeezing it so much."

The Nittany Lions got just 15 of their 58 field-goal attempts to drop in Sunday's 60-42 loss at Purdue, their fourth defeat in as many Big Ten games. Penn State's coach said he looked at the game tape the next morning and would not have changed the game plan -- he liked the looks his players got.

They just have to convert them.

"We need to exhale," said Chambers, letting out a deep breath for emphasis and pushing his palms downward. "Slow down, play at our pace."

Penn State's Big Ten opponents have been speeding the Nittany Lions up, which has caused their scoring to go down. They weren't scorching the nets in non-conference play, averaging 65.4 points per game, but had entered Big Ten play on the heels of a four-game stretch during which they averaged 78.5.

The poor shooting since, though -- a combined 33.5 percent from the field, worst in the conference -- has made it difficult for Penn State to even be in the game in the final minutes, let alone win it. The looks have been good and many have come close to dropping, but the number of missed shots at point-blank range has been devastating to the Nittany Lions.

"They're not making shots and they're making mistakes because they want to win so bad," Chambers said.

For Penn State to break out of its shooting slump, against defensive-minded Michigan State on Wednesday night or at any point this season, the Nittany Lions will need production from their best shooters, who are also the guys taking most of the shots. That list includes point guard D.J. Newbill. Chambers wants the 6-foot-4 sophomore, who prefers to get his points by going to the basket, to keep being aggressive. If that means taking a couple of bad shots, it's all part of the learning process.

"If he becomes a robot, you're taking everything away from that kid," Chambers said. "He needs to go make plays, turn the ball over, take bad shots, and then we'll go into the film room and coach him and teach him."

Keeping one of their best offensive options, freshman forward Brandon Taylor, on the floor and out of foul trouble has been a big issue for the Nittany Lions. Taylor, who leads the team with a .400 3-point percentage in conference games, had 11 first-half points, including three 3-pointers, in Sunday's loss. The coaches would like to see him operate more in the low post, however, to balance that 3-point stroke, especially if teams continue to switch defenders on high screens.

"That's huge for his development as a player," Chambers said. "But you've got to want to be in the post. Everybody's switching on us. He's got to want to take that mismatch."

Sixty percent of Taylor's field goal attempts and 58 percent of his made shots have been of the 3-point variety, but he's been making a more concerted effort to get some shots a little closer to the rim.

"I need to go inside and stop shooting all these threes," Taylor said, adding with a grin: "I like shooting the three. But I like to play with my back to the basket as well."

Getting plenty of shots to fall won't be easy against the Spartans, who are second in the Big Ten in scoring defense at 57.7 points per game and have speed on the perimeter and strength in the paint. The Nittany Lions say their focus will be on defense and rebounding, though, not on what they need to do to take the invisible lid off the basket.

"You always have a game like that, an off game," Taylor said. "We were missing shots we usually make. So I don't think we need to look too much into it, because that will come. The shots will fall. We just need to focus on other things and the offense will come."

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