No. 18 Illinois 98, Penn State 81: Despite Hot Start, Illini Too Much For Nittany Lions

By John Morgan on December 24, 2020 at 9:56 am
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State jumped out to an early 19-4 lead against Illinois on Wednesday night, but the joy was short-lived. The teams went into the half tied at 43, but the second half belonged to the Illini as they handed the Nittany Lions (3-3, 0-2) their second straight conference loss.

  1st half 2nd half final
Penn State 43 38 81
Illinois 43 55 98

Penn State didn't have an answer for Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu, who scored 21 of his game-high 30 points in the second half. Center Kofi Cockburn added 23 points and six rebounds for the Illini.

Penn State jumped out to that aforementioned 19-4 lead thanks to a hot start from Myreon Jones who scored 11 quick points. Jones finished the game with 21 points along with Izaiah Brockington who added 21 of his own.

After the hot start, Illinois clawed back into the game thanks to a dominant evening from Kofi Cockburn. For the first part of the second half, the Nittany Lions hung in there, but after sinking a pair of free throws by Dosunmu with 13:38 remaining in the half, Illinois never looked back.

Both teams finished the game shooting over 50%, but the Illini won the rebound game convincingly 36 to 25. Illinois finished the game 23 of 28 from the charity stripe where Penn State finished just 4-7. The big men of Illinois dictated that statistic much more than any gripe with the officiating. 

Penn State now heads to Bloomington, Indiana next Wednesday to take on the Hoosiers (5-3, 0-1). As mentioned in the preview, it gets no easier for the Nittany Lions as they try to navigate through a brutal Big Ten schedule. The team has shown they can be a tough out but will need more consistent second half performances if they have any pipe dreams of an NCAA bid.