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Travis, Penn State men's basketball team finding their way

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PSU: Early review

Best win: Penn State beat Bucknell, which should contend for the NCAA tournament, the game after losing point guard Tim Frazier for the season.

Worst loss: The Nittany Lions lost by 25 points to LaSalle at the Palestra on Dec. 5 after trailing by just four at halftime

Upcoming game of note: Penn State closes out nonconference play Dec. 29 against visiting Duquesne, which is fresh off a 60-56 upset of West Virginia.

Most telling stat(s): Guards Jermaine Marshall and D.J. Newbill combine to average 30.0 points per game. Sasa Borovnjak and Jon Graham, the top two big men, are combining for 4.9 points.

Silver lining: Frazier is eligible to redshirt, and he is expected to return for a fifth season.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Scott Brown
Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 11:04 p.m.

The alley-oop pass appeared to be too ambitious and seemed destined to sail out of bounds.

A soaring Ross Travis, however, snatched the ball out of midair — and from the turnover column — and slammed it through the hoop. Earlier in a disjointed game at Bryce Jordan Center, the Penn State forward lost control of the ball while driving to the hoop, the kind of unforced error that can tax a coach's follicle count.

The two plays could not have been more different, and they make Travis emblematic of a Penn State basketball team trying to find its way following a season-ending foot injury to dynamic point guard Tim Frazier.

Penn State has scuffled without Frazier, who last season accounted for more of his team's offense than any player in the nation.

The Nittany Lions (5-4), who host Delaware State on Saturday are running out of time to find their footing since Frazier's left Achilles' tendon injury on Nov. 18 scrambled everything.

Only three games separate Penn State from its nonconference slate and the start of the Big Ten schedule. In terms of difficulty, that is like going from an open-book test to the bar exam. And a team that would have run everything through Frazier, a first-team all-Big Ten pick last season, desperately needs players like Travis to emerge.

The 6-foot-6, 225-pound sophomore is athletic and versatile with a Big Ten body.

“His next step is 40 minutes — doing it for 40 (minutes) and a willingness to continue to learn and be taught the game and understand the game,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “He wants to be a big-time player, and big-time players want to be challenged, and they want to play.”

Travis scored seven of Penn State's first nine points last Saturday in a 78-70 win against Army. The Minnesota native shot the ball well and was assertive on offense. His dunk off a D.J. Newbill alley-oop pass sent a surge of energy through Bryce Jordan Center.

Travis and Penn State must hope that game proves to be a springboard for the player who has shot just 35.1 percent from the field and made only 2 of 19 3-point attempts.

“I've always had confidence,” said Travis, who is averaging 8.4 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game. “I've just been waiting for the shots to fall and they're finally falling.”

Said Chambers, “I want him to play free and clear.”

The second-year coach may have more pressing concerns — ones that will make it difficult to win more Big Ten games than he did last season (four).

Newbill, an offensive-minded shooting guard who transferred from Southern Mississippi, has had to play the point in Frazier's absence. Swingman Jermaine Marshall also has handled some of the ball-handling duties.

Even more troublesome is that the Nittany Lions have not gotten much offensive production from their big men. If that doesn't change, it will only add to the difficulty Marshall and Newbill face when Penn State opens Big Ten play.

“A couple of guys have to step up and fill the spot that he left,” Newbill said. “Like Ross. He's being more aggressive.”

Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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