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No. 22 Illinois 79, Penn State 65: The Road To 0-6 Continues

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0-6 starts in conference play were a staple of the previous head coach.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

In Pat Chambers’ nine seasons as head coach of Penn State, he started conference play with a record of 0-6 or worse four times. Chambers managed the patented 0-6 start in back to back seasons in 2014 and ‘15. This iteration of the Nittany Lions seems headed in that direction, in similarly excruciating fashion.

The 2021 Nittany Lions have held a lead, for any given amount of time, in every single game they’ve played this season. Furthermore, they’ve held a double-digit lead in three of the five losses leading up to this game. To add even more insult to injury, those double-digit leads were all at least 15 points in nature.

Penn State is one of Kenpom’s unluckiest teams for a reason. The Nittany Lions have continued to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory for most of this coaching staff’s tenure, and this season —and the formula— is no exception: The Lions play for a good stretch, they seemingly forget what made them good in the first place and go away from that, going into a prolonged scoring drought in the process, then find themselves having to fight for their lives at the end of games. That last part is usually done in the form of a single player trying to do it all, only to come up just short.

That brings us to the second game against Illinois this season. The first meeting was quite feisty, with both Jamari Wheeler and Ayo Dosunmu getting a technical foul at the end for their back and forth. This wouldn’t be the first time these two teams have had contentious encounters, as, for whatever reason, there just seems to be bad blood there. And this game was no different.

Penn State would not start this game on fire, like they did last time out. It was Illinois who quickly ran away with it, going up as high as 18 in the first half. The Nittany Lions would close the gap a bit going into half time, but still went into the break down double digits.

Any hope that the Penn State would make a comeback in the second half were put to rest quite quickly, as Illinois extended their lead as high as 22, and it would go no lower than 15 the rest of the second half. The lone bright spot was Myreon Jones, who had another 20-point outing in this one. Everything else can safely be wiped out from memory.

All in all, Penn State looks to avoid its first 0-6 start since two seasons ago, when they started conference play 0-10 and won seven of their last 10. With three consecutive home games in the horizon, evening out their conference record is within the realm of possibility, but it starts with the first win.

Four Factors Analysis

These numbers tell a very clear story. Penn State’s shooting let it down yet again. For all their struggles with Kofi Cockburn and overall post play, the Lions did hustle and edged the Illini in the rebound department. It’s the other issues that have plagued the Lions —fouling way too often and going on extended scoring droughts, that spelled doom in the end.

Player of the Game

Myreon Jones was the only consistent player in this game, so he gets this one by default. That’s not to take away from his outing, as he had 20 points, shot 75% from three, and three rebounds. Unfortunately, the only other player with more than six points in the game was Seth Lundy, who himself had 13.

Random Observations

Myreon found his shot - One of the silver linings so far has been the assurance that Myreon Jones is back to his 2020 form. The guard had a rough start to the season, but is now shooting 39.4% from the field and 37.7% from three, including this game’s numbers.

Inside game was horrendous - Yes, season struggles and the like, but it was especially bad in this game. It certainly didn’t help that Kofi Cockburn could punch someone in the face and not get called for a foul in this one.

Offense looks great when shots fall - When shots are falling, everything else flows well. Assist numbers are up, ball moves, defense is explosive, you name it. On the other hand, players force shots, they forget to share the ball, bad decisions (and terrible turnovers) are the name of the game when the shots don't fall. Also the sky is blue.

Tempers flared - These teams don’t like each other. We knew this game was going to be chippy. Things came to a boil at the end of the first half, when Illinois’ Da’Monte Williams and D.J. Gordon got into it as Gordon was trying to help Harrar off the floor. Of course, Penn State got two technicals while Illinois got one.

Reputation matters - Penn State fouls (even when they don’t), other teams don’t foul (even when they do). Unfortunately for the Lions, they’re just going to have to find a way to play around that, because that will not change this season. That is, of course, unless Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski suddenly become the head coach tomorrow.

Adding insult to injury - Myles Dread got injured on a play in the first half, and wouldn’t come back for the rest of the game.

Looking Ahead

Penn State doesn’t get much of a break, as they host Rutgers on Thursday. The Big Ten Network will cary the game, a 7 PM tilt Eastern Time. The Scarlet Knights can shoot now, so this game hopefully won’t be the eye sore it normally is.