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Illinois 98, Penn State 81: Illini Win The Feats of Strength

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Despite a hot start from Penn State, Illinois utilized their height advantage to claw back and ultimately win handily.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

With a ten-day break between games, Jim Ferry’s crew had plenty of time to stew on what could have been when the team gave Michigan all they could handle but just couldn’t make the critical shot or get that critical stop when necessary. With Illinois coming to Happy Valley, they had a chance to rectify this issue.

The Nittany Lions came out of the gate like gangbusters, shooting a red-hot 80 percent from the floor in the game’s first five minutes as Myreon Jones’ 11 points led to a 19-4 advantage in the early going. The Illini clawed their way back however, with a healthy dose of Kofi Cockburn scoring in the paint, plus some hot shooting from Ayo Dosumnu and a few other Illini players to eventually erase said PSU lead with three minutes left in the half. Buckets by Izaiah Brockington (who had 13 points in the first half alone) and Jones kept Illinois from completely taking over the game, leading to a 43-43 tie at halftime.

The second half saw the teams trading buckets for the first six minutes. With the game tied at 54, the Illini ripped off a 12-2 run aided by a Trent Frazier three-pointer and a pair of layups by Cockburn. With John Harrar sitting on the bench with four fouls at the 11-minute mark, PSU had to really go small-ball against an Illini team that was already overwhelming them with their height advantage.

To nobody’s surprise, Illinois took full advantage of the lack of any interior defense whatsoever, as easy layups and dunks led by Cockburn and Dosunmu (who would finish with 22 and 30 points, respectively) allowed them to keep PSU at bay, culminating in a commanding victory.

Four Factors

Clearly, you can see that both teams shot the ball well. Illinois getting so many easy layups and dunks, thanks to superior offensive rebounding (14 in total for Illinois), and getting to the line 28 times (and making 23 free throws) compared to PSU’s measly seven trips are your difference-makers in this one.

Player(s) of The Game

Both Myreon Jones and Izaiah Brockington racked up 21 points each, scoring either by slicing and dicing through the Illini defense or knocking down shots from long range. Unfortunately, it could only help keep PSU afloat for so long. Nonetheless, Myreon and Zay are your co-players of tonight’s game.

Random Observations

  • Thanks, Rutgers-Ohio State! Because Rutgers didn’t know when to just call it a game and quit fouling when it was clear OSU was going to win, we were robbed of witnessing the hot start PSU had.
  • Just. Like. Football. - PSU and Illinois shot 61 and 57 percent from the floor respectively, in the first half. Yes, both teams nailed their share of treys, but they also got their share of points in the paint. The high-scoring first half was very reminiscent of last Saturday’s football game between these schools. Unlike the football edition though, it was Illinois who ended up ultimately pulling away.
  • No Answers Inside - Kofi Cockburn, Giorgi Bezhanishvili, and any other Illini big man was able to do as they pleased inside. Unfortunately, we had an inkling this would be a problem, not just in today’s preview of this game, but also in the preseason. It’s going to be a long season with this complete lack of interior defense.

Looking Ahead

Penn State (3-3, 0-2 B1G) gets a full week to prepare for their trip to Bloomington to take on Indiana next Wednesday (December 30th). Tip-off of that game will be at 8:30 PM ET on BTN.