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PSU Basketball

Start good, everything else bad for Lions

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Izaiah Brockington

UNIVERSITY PARK — James Franklin and Jim Ferry need to have a talk. Maybe if they put their heads together and combine philosophies, they could come up with a plan on how to play a good game from start to finish.

The Penn State football team often has struggled mightily early in games under Franklin. It is by far the biggest problem he has had during his tenure. But then the football team usually makes good adjustments and plays much better in the second half, with Franklin noting the program has been able to find ways to win a lot of games.

This year’s PSU basketball team has looked tremendous early in several games, shooting lights out and being fired up. Clearly the guys are ready to play, and have shown during the hot starts just how good they can be as a team.

The Lions kept up the strong play the entire way in a great 75-55 win at No. 15 Virginia Tech. But in two other games they have blown their great starts, collapsed and lost.

They blew a 19-point lead against Seton Hall a couple weeks ago and lost in OT.

It happened again Wednesday night against No. 18 Illinois at the Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State was terrific to start, jumping out to a 16-2 lead.

Then the Lions fell apart and lost, 98-81.

Do you know how hard it is to go from leading 16-2 to losing 98-81?

It’s staggering. I don’t care who you’re playing.

Yes, Illinois is good, a top 20 team. And the Illini have two excellent players in All-American guard Ayo Dosunmu and massive 7-footer Kofi Cockburn.

But to go from up 16-2 just 4:22 into the game, to getting destroyed 96-65 the rest of the way, well … that’s a problem.

“Frustrating is a good word,” Ferry said.

On the major difference after the 16-2 lead, Ferry said, “It’s consistency. It’s continuing to play the way that we’re playing. I think we’re letting our foot off the gas, and it was on the defensive side of the ball tonight.”

Guard Izaiah Brockington said, “We’ve just got to continue playing how we’re playing, not worrying about the score. We knew that it’s a game of runs, and we had to be ready for their punch.”

Sometimes taking a big lead early can have a strange effect. It actually can put the team that’s up big into a mode of overconfidence, while waking up the other team because it’s in an immediate desperation mode needing to come back.

“It definitely can have a negative effect,” Brockington said of getting up so big so early. “I feel like definitely it might have got to us a little bit, maybe we got a little lax on the defensive end thinking it would be like that the whole game. But they’re the No. 18 team in the country, they’re not gonna lay down that easily.”

Nope, Illinois didn’t lay down. It turned to its two stars, who carried the load the rest of the night.

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Massive Kofie Cockburn, who’s 7-foot and 285 pounds, started 8-of-8 from the field and dominated the overmatched, undersized Lions down low. Cockburn finished with 23 points on 11-of-13 shooting.

Earlier this week, Ferry compared Cockburn to Shaquille O’Neal when he was in college. If you think that’s an exaggerated comparison, think again. From a sheer physical standpoint, Cockburn does indeed look like a man amongst boys in the paint, as did Shaq, who was 7-foot, 290 pounds during his days at LSU.

Illinois had 21 second-chance points, to PSU’s 10, and that not only helped the Illini come back, it enabled them to win in a blowout.

“A lot of it was second-chance points … They never stopped crashing the glass. A lot of times when we get stops it’d be negated by an offensive rebound and an easy layup,” Brockington said.

All-American guard Ayo Dosunmu led Illinois with 30 points, showing why he’s so highly rated with an array of offensive moves.

“They have two NBA players,” Ferry said.

Things got rough in the closing minutes of the game as Dosunmu and Jamari Wheeler lost their cool and started going at it a bit. Wheeler was called for one technical and Dosunmu drew two technicals, getting ejected.

“Two competitive kids,” is all Ferry would say when asked about what happened.

Penn State has shown that, when it’s playing well and shooting well, it can compete with any team in the Big Ten. But the defense was far too poor Wednesday, and that’s a problem that must be corrected going forward.

As for stopping the opponents’ big guys inside, that’s just gonna be a problem. John Harrar is a hard worker who does everything he can, but he was in foul trouble Wednesday and simply was no match for a talented, dynamic and massive player such as Cockburn.

“We’re gonna have to get consistent in this league,” Ferry said. “Everybody’s just too good. You can’t play 20 minutes, you’ve got to play 40 minutes.”

Sound familiar, Penn State football fans?

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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