Penn State Basketball Weekly Preview: Packed Schedule Ahead for Nittany Lions
Penn State basketball is back in full swing, as the Nittany Lions are now faced with the challenge of making up the games missed during their pause due to COVID-19. The team returned to action on Sunday, losing a close one to Purdue 80-72.
The Nittany Lions got strong performances from Myreon Jones and John Harrar, but the team showed rust, as it shot only 33% from the field and 26% from 3-point range. The Boilermakers took over in the second half, as a rested Trevion Williams earned a double-double while leading a balanced Purdue offense.
Penn State Head coach Jim Ferry tried to focus on the positives, as the team showed fight in its first game in over two weeks.
“When we played together, we looked like a team that was connected, and I thought Harrar was phenomenal,” Ferry said. “We’ve got to limit the things we’re doing wrong.”
Now the Nittany Lions face the tough challenge of playing three games in a five-day span, starting with a team they are familiar with in Illinois—this time in Champaign.
Now ranked No. 22 in the country, the Fighting Illini are currently on a two-game losing streak following a loss to a ranked Ohio State squad. Before that, they were on a four-game winning streak, which started when the Illini came back in the second half to defeat the Nittany Lions 98-81.
In that game, Illinois star Ayo Dosunmu scored 30 points, while center Kofi Cockburn had 23 amidst putting Penn State big man John Harrar in early foul trouble. Most of the team’s points came in the second half, as the Nittany Lions held a 21-8 lead early on and a 32-20 lead before the game was tied at 43 by halftime.
The competition doesn’t get much easier after the visit to the midwest, as Penn State will host a game for the first time since Dec. 23 when the Nittany Lions take on Rutgers on Thursday night. Although they’ve been unranked since Jan. 4 and are just 3-5 in conference play, the Scarlet Knights boast one of the Big Ten’s best defenses.
Junior Myles Johnson averages two blocks per game (second most in the conference), while senior guard Jacob Young leads the league in steals with an average of 2.3.
But Rutgers’ issue is its scoring margin, which sits at just +3. The Scarlet Knights offense has struggled during the current four-game losing streak, in which leading scorer Ron Harper Jr. has averaged just over 10 points per game. And he didn’t play in Rutgers’ last victory on Dec. 29 against Purdue. Jones, Harrar and company will look to use Rutgers’ stagnant scoring to their advantage on the defensive end.
After that, the Nittany Lions will play host to the previously ranked Northwestern Wildcats. Northwestern is another team that has fizzled as of late, as Boo Buie and the Wildcats are coming off a five-game losing streak. Each of those losses came against AP Top 25 opponents, including No. 5 Iowa twice.
After dropping 30 points in a December win against Michigan State, Buie has dropped goose eggs in two games and has averaged just over six points per game. But the offense has picked up in other areas, due much in part to sharpshooting big Pete Nance and leading scorer Miller Kopp.
The big question mark heading into Saturday will be whether Penn State has enough gas left in the tank after playing three games in the previous six days.
Ferry said that he’s confident in the journey ahead, and he told his guys that the packed schedule is a good test for those who want to play professionally. He’s excited to get back to the hardwood so frequently after the hiatus.
“Hopefully [the Purdue game] will get us ready for the next [stretch of games],” Ferry said. “We finally got that game where your chest is actually hurting because [we] played so hard.”
Logan Bourandas is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
Jack McCune is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.