No. 22 Illinois 79, Penn State 65: Illini Hammer Lions to Sweep Season Series

By Brad Peterson on January 20, 2021 at 8:09 am
Penn State forward John Harrar
© Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

This was always going to be a heavy lift for the Nittany Lions. A quick turnaround against a team coming off two straight losses that they don’t match up well against. The final score of 79-65 really wasn’t indicative of how much Illinois dominated the Lions in a sloppy game that had a combined 31 turnovers.

  1st half 2nd half final
Penn State 28 37 65
Illinois 42 37 79

Illinois has been prone to slow starts, including being down to PSU 19-4 in their first contest, but they started fast in this one, with 7-foot Kofi Cockburn scoring the first 5 and 7 of the Illini’s first 10 points. Penn State quickly found itself in a 13-5 hole, but rallied back to tie the game at 17 due to making 5 of their first 6 from behind the arc; 2 each from Myreon Jones, Seth Lundy, and Myles Dread. That would be the high point of the game for Penn State. From there Illinois went on a 10-0 run in four minutes to take a 27-17 lead at the under 8 media timeout. Surprise starter Trent Buttrick hit his only bucket of the game to end the Illini run, but PSU only managed 6 points over a 9-minute span and the lead increased to 37-23 after Cockburn hit 2 FTs.

After knotting the game at 17, Penn State was outscored 25-11 over the final 12:45 of the half to go to the locker room down 42-28. In the half, Penn State was 6-11 from 3, but only 2-17 inside the arc as Cockburn altered or blocked shot after shot. Illinois played with energy and moved the ball quickly, finishing with 18 assists on 26 made FGs for the game.

The second half was sloppy for both teams. Penn State, who only averages 8 turnovers a game, finished with a season-high 16 TOs, and Illinois turned it over 15 times. Illinois stretched the lead to 22 in the second half, with Penn State never closer than 12, which was in the first minute of the half. The Nittany Lions did manage to respond and play the Illini even in the half.

Cockburn, who leads the nation in double-doubles, had his 11th with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Ayo Dosunmu, who was AWOL for much of the game chipped in 13 points, far below his 22 PPG average. Trent Frazier also added 13 points. For the Nittany Lions, Myreon Jones had his 4th straight 20-point game, on 6-13 shooting. Seth Lundy was the only other Lion in double figures with 13 off the bench, his first game not starting this season.

Penn State now heads back to the BJC to regroup from its worst performance of the season. The Nittany Lions will try to get their first conference win Thursday night as they take on a struggling Rutgers team.

Game Leaders:

  • Penn State: Myreon Jones, 20 points; John Harrar, 9 rebounds; Izaiah Brockington, 3 assists
  • Illinois: Kofi Cockburn, 21 points; Kofi Cockburn, 12 rebounds; Ayo Dosunmu, 5 assists

Key Takeaways:

Penn State started in a 2-3 zone after being primarily a man-to-man team. In his post-game comments, Coach Jim Ferry said he felt the team had done well in the limited time they utilized a zone and the reason to use it in this game was to try to cut down on fouls and limit penetration. Not sure either worked well.

This team, and it seems every Penn State team in recent memory, has debilitating scoring droughts during games. Two separate 4-minute scoring droughts in the first half doomed the Lions as the Illini went 22-0 in those 8 minutes.

Hopefully the shoulder injury suffered in the first half by Myles Dread doesn’t linger and cause him to miss time (he didn’t return in the second half).

Myreon Jones has become the go-to scorer for the team, taking the mantle from Lamar Stevens. He continues to hit tough shots from all over the court.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen, in many years of watching college hoops, a player pick up a technical in just their third game and sixth minute of playing time. Welcome to the B1G, DJ Gordon!