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Penn State vs. Illinois: 3 Halftime Observations

Micah Shrewsberry, Penn State Basketball
Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Micah Shrewsberry January 21, 2023 David Hague/NSN

CHICAGO — At the half, Penn State leads Illinois 31-30 in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. Here’s a brief look at the action in the first 20 minutes.


The Nittany Lions dominated the first 10 minutes of the game, despite Jalen Pickett quiet from the field. For the most part, the Nittany Lions have looked to go to the basket, while Illinois has settled for deep shots. For the most part, that worked early, as Penn State jumped out to a 10-point lead.

But Illinois seems to have gotten wise to that strategy, as Coleman Hawkins has stepped up inside to take away the easy basket. Penn State hasn’t shot many 3-pointers yet because it hasn’t needed to take them. But that’s looking like it will change over the rest of the game. The Nittany Lions must either find a way around Hawkins or start looking for the 3-pointer.


Either the Illini don’t know or don’t care that they’re not really strong from 3-point range. Out of their 35 attempts from the field, 14 have been from behind the arc. For a team that shoots less than 35 percent from deep, that’s too many deep looks. Penn State has to keep playing good defense inside so Illinois keeps settling for triples. The Nittany Lions also must close off the rebound and limit the Illini to one look. Hawkins has shown the most aggression inside, but the rest of the Illini are struggling to match his fire. Penn State won the rebounding effort in the first half after some sloppy work early on, and that must continue.


If Penn State plays its game for 40 minutes, it’s going to win. The Nittany Lions look like the better team, and there’s no question they’re the hungrier team. At the same time, the Nittany Lions controlled the first part of the first half and couldn’t finish Illinois off. When a team gets a chance for an early kill and blows it, that can work on their psyche.

Penn State has to come out strong and remember that it’s mostly done good work to this point. With the rest of the Illini not really showing their aggression or desire for part of the first half, an early run could crush their spirit. Penn State has to go for the kill by doing what got it the lead. If it can keep the crowd from becoming a factor, so much the better for it.

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