Game Grades: Men’s Basketball vs. Illinois
A roaring Bryce Jordan Center wasn’t enough for No. 9 Penn State (20-6, 10-5) as it fell to Illinois (17-9, 9-6) 62-56 Tuesday night. This snaps Penn State’s eight-game winning streak and Illinois’s four-game losing skid. Let’s hand out grades to each of the units for the Nittany Lions.
A big reason the Nittany Lions went on their winning streak was because their offense had an identity and the players had chemistry. But most of that disappeared against the Illini. Although ball movement was apparent around the perimeter, big man Mike Watkins was trying to force too many things inside, shooting just 4-of-10 from the field. Both Watkins and fellow big John Harrar held the ball down low too long and were unable to get a good look all night, which forced turnovers and easy Illinois rebounds.
The only issue is there wasn’t much help for Watkins and Harrar from the outside. The team went 4-of-19 from downtown, and Lamar Stevens led in scoring with just 13 points. Down the stretch of the second half, the guards passed the ball almost too much, as if they were scared of missing an open shot.
Penn State panicked in many situations where it would usually be calm and collected. They didn’t seem prepared for an Illinois defense that is one of the best in the conference when fully healthy.
The defense had a very strange performance on Tuesday. On certain possessions, Penn State didn’t allow any penetration and locked all windows and doors, forcing Illinois to commit 13 turnovers.
But other times, the unit was fooled easily. The Illini routinely ran screens up top to force a double team on Ayo Dosunmu, which either left center Kofi Cockburn all alone under the basket or placed Harrar in no man’s land to give Dosunmu a scoring lane.
The defense will have to look at better ways to stop a duo involving a dynamic scorer and a powerful big man. Teams will look to exploit this weakness come tournament time.
Head coach Patrick Chambers was mic’d up and was heard on the TV broadcast all game in a special presentation. From a leadership standpoint, he couldn’t have done much better, as he communicated with his players all game and got the teams’ spirits back up with a motivational speech after every drought.
But there were many situations where Chambers didn’t seem to fix issues on both sides of the floor. He could’ve experimented with a smaller lineup without Watkins or Harrar to prevent some of the ball screen action from Dosunmu and Cockburn and to help floor spacing. It was almost like Penn State relied more on athleticism than coaching to keep it close in the second half.
Regardless, Chambers is leading this team to one of the best seasons in program history. He should be able to figure out what went wrong and adjust accordingly for the future.
Jack McCune is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
About the Contributors
Senior / Broadcast Journalism
Jack McCune is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism from Yardley, Pennsylvania, which is outside of Philly and just across the Delaware River from New Jersey. He attended Pennsbury High School in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. He’s a huge fan of the Eagles, Phillies, 76ers, Penn State football and Penn State basketball. He’s a sports anchor and multimedia reporter for the Centre County Report. He’s a Football Insider for CommRadio. His talk show, Broad Street Bros, airs Thursday nights at 5:45, as he talks about Philly and Penn State sports. He hopes to some day become a play-by-play announcer for football, basketball and/or baseball, and he is also interested in becoming a bartender.