Confident Bill O'Brien barnstorming for Penn State

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Confident Bill O'Brien barnstorming for Penn State

READING, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien got to the point.

There's no time to waste for a major college football program, even in the offseason -- and especially for a Penn State team facing roster restrictions because of NCAA sanctions.

Whether he was rallying the fan base Monday at a luncheon or explaining to reporters about the post-spring practice evaluations that led to the departure of starting quarterback candidate Steven Bench, O'Brien didn't mince words.

"There's no room for gray area. We don't have time for it," he said at a news conference at the student center of the Penn State-Berks campus in Reading. "We only have time for the truth."

Confident after a successful debut season, O'Brien is returning to the road this week for the Penn State coaches caravan. The second annual installment followed last year's three-week, 18-stop road trip organized in part to introduce O'Brien to Penn State's massive alumni base up and down the mid-Atlantic region.

This year's caravan isn't quite as ambitious, down to two weeks and 12 stops. It began with an appearance before a sold-out crowd of 250 in Reading.

But it's a different O'Brien, too. He enjoys strong support from alumni after guiding the Nittany Lions through the turbulent 2012 season, which included the sanctions on the program for the child sex abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

Penn State ended 8-4, a smashing success given the unprecedented penalties on players who had nothing to do with the scandal. He thanked fans for sticking by the team.

"I'm more proud to be a Penn State graduate today than at any time since I graduated in 1986," gushed one fan into a microphone during a question-and-answer period while O'Brien awaited queries on a stage.

An appreciative O'Brien focused on looking ahead. Joined on stage by friend and Penn State basketball coach Patrick Chambers, O'Brien often flashed a dry sense of humor.

At other times, O'Brien sounded a defiant tone. He said other schools are questioning to potential recruits whether the team can succeed while under sanctions.

"Our commitment is to forge ahead together. It's no secret that others expect us to be down," O'Brien said. "Recruiting is a cutthroat business. That's just the way it is."

He told alumni Monday that students, including players, needed their support -- whether through donations, attendance at sporting events or otherwise. He spoke of the importance of unity for the sake of students during tough times.

Penn State attendance declined last year. The average attendance of roughly 96,000 left the stadium at about 91 percent capacity, down from the usual 97-98 percent.

He also promised a continued focus on academics.

"When I took the job here, I spoke to (Joe Paterno). I promised him that these guys would be students first and they would earn their degrees to the best of my abilities," O'Brien said to applause. "When it comes to athletics, that is our culture at Penn State, across all 31 teams."

The sanctions require Penn State to reduce its scholarship roster to 65 for a four-year period starting in 2014. Most major college teams have 85 scholarship players.

But the Nittany Lions were already down to nearly 70 by midseason last year after post-sanction player defections -- and still finished second in the Big Ten Leaders Division.

Bench announced last week he was transferring. O'Brien said Monday that freshman offensive lineman Anthony Stanko, who did not play last year, also plans to leave the team but has chosen to stay on scholarship.

The roster shuffling means the Nittany Lions will probably be at the 65-man limit anyway by the time 2013 season kicks off Aug. 31 against Syracuse.

"We have to prove ourselves -- again. And show what we're made of -- again," O'Brien said. "We have a culture of integrity. That is not new at Penn State, and that is not going to get old at Penn State."

The NCAA's transfer exception expires by the start of Penn State training camp in early August.

Bench left well before that deadline. O'Brien declined to get into specifics about his post-spring evaluation meeting last week with Bench, but said the quarterback improved during the spring. He said he would help Bench and wished his former player the best.

"I told him the truth, and what he needed to do to get better," O'Brien said. "No starter has been named, but going in (to preseason practice) maybe you won't get as many reps as the other guys, but you're still going to get reps."

For now, junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson has an offseason edge by default after splitting spring reps with Bench. Incoming freshman quarterback and touted prospect Christian Hackenberg will also get an audition in preseason camp.

Notes
Last year's starting quarterback, Matt McGloin, is scheduled to take part in Washington Redskins rookie training camp. McGloin set the school season record for passing yardage (3,266) last year ... O'Brien confirmed that running back Zach Zwinak hurt his left wrist at the spring game 10 days ago but will be ready for the season. Zwinak will likely be kept out of full contact during preseason practice.

Temple's youth shows again as lead slips away late in loss to UConn

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Temple's youth shows again as lead slips away late in loss to UConn

BOX SCORE

Temple’s Sunday tilt with UConn at the Liacouras Center was the embodiment of a young team trying to find its way.

The Owls had a double-digit lead against one of the hottest teams in the nation, thanks in part to their young guys producing in pivotal moments in the game.

However, the inability to finish cost Temple again, as the Owls allowed Jalen Adams to convert a reverse layup with 2.9 seconds remaining in a 64-63 loss to the Huskies (see Instant Replay).

“It’s hard,” Temple Head Coach Fran Dunphy said after the loss. “We have two of these now. We have Tulsa (70-68 on Jan. 14) and Connecticut at the buzzer at home. There’s not a lot to say.

“If we all make one better decision, including me, whether it’s a defensive set, a substitution or whatever. They hold onto the ball, they get a rebound, they make a shot, whatever it happens to be. We all make one better decision and we’re coming away with two great wins in Tulsa and UConn and not sitting here after two tough losses.”

After UConn hit a three to tie the game at 60, Temple freshman Quinton Rose made a huge three-pointer of his own to put the Owls back up 63-60 with 2:32 left in the game.

With Temple (14-14, 5-10 AAC) still clinging to a three-point lead, sophomore Shizz Alston, Jr. came up with a huge offensive rebound, only to turn it over with 1:08 left on the clock. Adams came up with the steal and raced up the court, but was fouled by Rose while attempting a dunk.

Following Adams’ two makes at the free-throw line, Temple’s lead was trimmed to just 63-62. On the ensuing possession, senior Daniel Dingle was fouled by UConn guard Rodney Purvis.

Dingle missed the front end of a one-and-one set at the line, which set the stage for Adams’ acrobatic shot to give the Huskies (14-12, 9-5 AAC) their seventh win in the last eight games.

“We knew they were going to come off that high ball screen with Adams,” Dunphy said. “We needed to sit down and keep him in front of us. One guy could have helped a little bit more than he did. It would have been a drive and kick for an open jumper, but it would have been better than [a layup]. The other guy just needs to sit down on that play and keep Adams in front of him, but we knew that ball screen was coming.”

“I honestly thought the ball was going to Purvis because he made the last three shots, so I did my best to deny him,” Dingle said. “[Adams] did a fantastic move.”

Things had been going Temple’s way for a majority of the night. The Owls led for the vast majority of game time thanks in part to 5 of 9 shooting from three in the first half, which gave them a 35-29 halftime lead. The lead increased to 56-46 with 8:29 left in the contest.

Dingle’s all-around play and leadership helped push Temple ahead. Freshmen Damien Moore and Alani Moore II combined for 22 points on 9 of 10 shooting.

However, the Owls went cold late. Temple made only 2 of 12 three-point shots in the second half.

UConn's day went in the opposite direction as the Huskies shot a blistering 54.2 percent in the second half and 62.5 percent from downtown. Purvis poured in 13 of his game-high 18 after intermission.

“The younger guys are doing very well,” said Dingle, who finished with 17 points, six rebounds and six assists. “We’re going to learn how to win. They’re doing a great job. It just so happens that we let one get away again.”

The Owls have made close defeats a habit. Sunday marked their fifth loss this season by five points or less.

These type of losses are the reason why Temple is in the eighth spot in the American Athletic Conference. With three regular-season games left and the AAC conference tournament quickly approaching, this Temple team, which holds victories over No. 9 West Virginia and No. 17 Florida State, will need to start showing the same promise it had earlier in the season to keep alive any dreams of dancing in the NCAA Tournament.

“I definitely talk to the guys about having that sense of urgency,” Dingle said. “For me, time is running out, so that’s the sense of urgency I’ve got. We’ve got to get there as a whole. I say that in the huddle, ‘We’ve got to get there.’ I remember being a freshman to now I’m in my fifth year. Time is not waiting, so every game we’ve got to go out there and play like it’s our last.

“The sense of urgency I think is all right but it has to increase. In order for us to get an opportunity to play in the NCAA [Tournament] – that’s something I want to do and I know the team wants bad for us as a whole and definitely for the seniors. Coach talks about the sense of urgency has to pick up.”

Instant Replay: UConn 64, Temple 63

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Instant Replay: UConn 64, Temple 63

Temple’s roller coaster season continued with a new low on Sunday afternoon.

The Owls, who led nearly the entire way, allowed UConn guard Jalen Adams to make a reverse layup with 2.9 seconds remaining in a 64-63 loss at the Liacouras Center.

Shizz Alston Jr. missed the potential game-winning shot from half court as time expired.

Turning point
The Owls (14-14, 5-10 AAC) looked like they might avoid blowing a 10-point lead after Quinton Rose responded to Rodney Purvis’ game-tying three-pointer with a three of his own to give them a 63-60 lead with 2:32 left.

However, the Huskies (14-12, 9-5 AAC) responded with a pair of free throws from Adams before he snaked his way into the lane with the clock running down for the game-winner. The layup gave UConn its seventh win in the last eight games.

Big men on campus
The Huskies were led by Rodney Purvis’ game-high of 18 points on 7 of 14 shooting. He also added five assists. 

Adams shot just 5 of 13 for 13 points, but connected with the game on the line. He also chipped in five assists and five boards.

The Owls received a jolt Sunday from their young players, as freshmen Damion Moore and Alani Moore II scored a combined 22 points on 9 of 10 shooting. 

In a solid all-around effort, Temple’s Daniel Dingle scored 17 points, with six boards and six assists. Alston Jr. contributed 11 points, six assists and 5 rebounds.

Inside the box score
• After making 5 of 9 shots from three-point range in the first half, Temple finished the game 7 of 21 from deep.

• UConn's Kentan Facey had a big game in the first matchup between the two teams with 23 points and 10 rebounds. On Sunday, the senior was held to eight points and four rebounds after dealing with foul trouble in the first half.

• Temple couldn’t find any room inside, as the Owls lost the points in the paint battle 26-16.

History lesson
With the win, UConn improved to 9-7 in the all-time series. The victory was the Huskies’ third straight in the series.

Up next
The Owls will continue on a three-game homestand Wednesday at 7 p.m. against UCF.

UConn will stay on the road and play at Houston also on Wednesday.