The No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions tasted defeat for the first time in a month on Tuesday, as they fell to an Illinois team desperate for a win, a team coming off a four-game losing streak, and one that had suffered the loss of one of its most, if not its most important player, Ayo Dosunmu, for a game. At the time, it looked like the injury was more severe than it really was, so it was a breath of fresh air for the Illini faithful to see their heart and soul back on the field so quickly.
On the other side of the coin, Penn State played its fourth game without Myreon Jones, and while it worked out just fine during the first three games, Jones’ absence in that game was felt early, and it finally caught up with the Nittany Lions in the loss column.
Now, the Lions go on the road looking to right some wrongs, and do so against a team they held to 49 points the first time around with relentless defense and clutch shooting when the game was close.
Scouting the opposition
The biggest difference, aside from location, will be the return of Race Thompson for the Hoosiers, while Penn State still doesn’t know if it will have Jones back. Thompson took some of Joey Brunk’s minutes on Wednesday against MInnesota, and played really well in his return. Trayce Jackson-Davis has also been playing much better since that loss in January, and the tandem will be quite the challenge for the Nittany Lion bigs to contain.
The key to the first game, however, was the admirable job Penn State did against the Indiana guards. The Nittany Lions had 15 steals in the first game, which will be tough to replicate, but if they can continue to make the Hoosier backcourt uncomfortable for large stretches of the game, their bigs won’t have as big an impact as they could.
What to watch for
Dear God give us Myreon back - This would be the fifth game Jones would miss if he’s not ready to go on Sunday, and Penn State is starting to feel the effects of not having one of its best players on the floor. The guard did travel with the team to Indiana (he didn’t travel to Purdue), so here’s to hoping he’s ready to go.
Focused bigs - Penn State its needs its bigs to play inspired basketball inside, as the Indiana bigs have been playing a lot better as of late. Can Mike Watkins and John Harrar handle Jackson-Davis, Brunk, and Thompson the second time around?
Better shooting - The interesting thing about the win in January is that Penn State shot 37.5% from the field, 27.8% from three, and a whopping 47.8% from the free throw line in the first meeting. Improve those numbers, and the chances of success are exponentially better on the road.
This game hinges on whether Myreon Jones will be back for the Nittany Lions. Winning on the road is never easy, and Indiana has hot and cold in the past few games, blowing the doors off Iowa and Minnesota sandwiched between their own blowout loss to Michigan. The game won’t be easy, but the Lions get it done. Penn State 71, Indiana 70.