Penn State Looking to Get Back on Track on Valentine’s Day
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Penn State Nittany Lions are looking to snap a four-game losing streak Tuesday night when the Illinois Fighting Illini come into town.
Penn State is coming off a 74-68 loss to the Maryland Terrapins on Saturday in College Park. On the stat sheet, the two teams seemed to play a similar game, until you look at one specific category: free-throw attempts.
In what seemingly is a recurring nightmare for coach Micah Shrewsberry and company, the Nittany Lions took four foul shots compared to the 23 attempts from Maryland. What resulted was a 16-point advantage for the Terrapins from the charity stripe, as Penn State could only bag two tries out of their four.
Out of those four, guard Jalen Pickett was not able to get to the free-throw line often, only having one attempt and missing it. Shrewsberry commented on his resume-filled star not getting calls calling it unfair postgame.
Out of that downside, a freshman guard stepped up to the call in Kanye Clary, who had a career high 17 points on 8 of 11 shooting and two assists. Shrewsberry loved what he saw from the Virginia Beach native but wants him to add onto his recent performance.
“That’s your biggest step right there,” Shrewsberry said. “Come back, have two good days of practice and then do it again. That’s the biggest thing. [Illinois] is a team that can really pressure you, that turns people over. So, we need more ball handling and more guys that can attack and get in the paint.”
As for their opponent, the Fighting Illini are a different team than what they were back on Dec. 10. The team has won seven of their last 11 Big Ten games this season since their loss to Penn State.
Shrewsberry also understands how different Illinois is compared to two months ago. Since their meeting, Penn State has concluded season series with the Purdue Boilermakers, Michigan Wolverines and Wisconsin Badgers.
“You’re playing a brand new team,” Shrewsberry said. “Some of the people aren’t the same. Their rotation is shifted a little more where [Dain] Dainja is playing. Their point guards are shifted, but some of the main characters with [Terrence] Shannon Jr. and [Matthew] Mayer, Coleman Hawkins are the same.”
This is an Illinois team that averages 74.9 points per game while allowing 63.9 points per game.
Big chunks of that do come from the aforementioned players above, with Dainja, Mayer and Shannon Jr. all averaging 10+ points per game, with the addition of Hawkins’ 9.7 points per game.
However, the difference between this contest and the Penn State win back in December is the absence of freshman guard Skyy Clark, who stepped away from the program in early 2023 for personal reasons.
In that matchup, Penn State managed to limit turnovers while shooting lights out in the State Farm Center, going 50% from the floor and beyond the arc. Shrewsberry added to the to-do list to sweep the Illini at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“They will beat you up on the glass,” Shrewsberry said. “ They’re a rebounding team, they get out in transition, especially when they turn you over, and they’re hard to stop in that way. So taking care of the ball, not getting dominated on the glass and trying to get as many quality shots as we can get.”
Another beneficial element can be the balance scoring. Against the Terrapins, only five of 10 Nittany Lions who stepped onto the court scored, with all of them going in double-digits.
With more production and sticking to the game plan, along with improving defense, Penn State could get back into the win column.
Jonathan Draeger is a third-year broadcast journalism major. To contact him, email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.