Penn State with reason to celebrate as tireless recruiting efforts pay off on Signing Day

Penn State with reason to celebrate as tireless recruiting efforts pay off on Signing Day

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State lost a battle for the services of Mark Webb, a four-star wide receiver from Archbishop Wood, but won enough other skirmishes that Nittany Lions coach James Franklin declared this year’s recruiting cycle a success as National Signing Day wound down Wednesday.

So much so that he planned to have all his assistants over at his home outside State College later in the day.

“We’re going to get after it pretty good,” the Langhorne, Pennsylvania native promised during an afternoon news conference.

They had certainly done so on the recruiting trail, bringing in a 21-man class ranked 12th in the nation by, 14th by and 15th by 247Sports. Rivals and 247 had the Lions third in the Big Ten, behind Ohio State and Michigan, while also put Maryland ahead of PSU.

The class is headed by Lamont Wade, a cornerback from Clairton, Pennsylvania, and the only five-star recruit in the bunch. And it was completed when another corner, Tariq Castro-Fields of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, announced for PSU (over Alabama and Maryland) exactly two minutes before Franklin began his presser.

The Lions also secured a letter of intent Tuesday from Corey Bolds, a three-star defensive tackle from Paramus, New Jersey. He opted for PSU over Rutgers and Minnesota.

This comes on the heels of Ellis Brooks' flipping his commitment from Maryland to the Lions on Monday. Brooks, an inside linebacker from Richmond, fills a gap in the class created when another 'backer, Dylan Rivers, decommitted from PSU in favor of Virginia Tech.

As for Webb, he committed to Georgia months ago. The Lions, nonetheless, stayed on him. He visited campus this past weekend, and on Tuesday the coaching staff sent a photo to Webb’s dad, Mark Sr., showing everyone wearing a Penn State jersey with the younger Webb’s No. 81 emblazoned upon it.

Mark Sr. told Tuesday that his son was “overwhelmed” by the pitch and would “sleep on it” before making a decision.

Ultimately, the younger Webb stuck with the Bulldogs after “hard and resilient soul-searching,” as Mark Sr. tweeted to Franklin and his staff Wednesday morning. Webb went on to thank the coaching staff, as well as the fans and alums “for welcoming us with such warmth.”

Franklin and his assistants pride themselves on their doggedness, as well as their ability to build relationships. The staff, he said, hadn’t taken a day off since July. And when asked how many miles he had flown in the last month, he couldn’t even hazard a guess.

“Half the time I didn’t know where I was going,” he said. “I got on the plane, and when it landed I got off and started talking about Penn State.”

He often had the Big Ten championship trophy (or, at least, the silver football portion of it) in tow. And while in his opinion the Lions’ title helped “a little” in the recruitment of Wade, one of four early enrollees, Franklin believes it will have more impact on recruits the next two years.

Josh Gattis, the offensive recruiting coordinator, thought otherwise — that it had to help with this year’s haul.

“When we first got the job (in January 2014), we were selling them on a vision,” he said. “This time around, we were able to go in with a championship trophy and show them that the process works.”

Franklin did admit that the Lions are at “a different place” than when he arrived three years ago. At that point, the roster was threadbare because of the NCAA sanctions resulting from the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal. Now the Lions are reaching the point where they have solid prospects all over the depth chart.

“Now,” Franklin said, “it’s going to be iron sharpens iron (in practice). … It’s not like we have glaring holes now like we did before.”

That’s particularly true along the offensive front. Franklin has often mentioned that he had just nine scholarship offensive linemen at his disposal when he was hired. Now there are six on the roster with starting experience, and a bevy of promising guys waiting in the wings.

Four incoming recruits — Mike Miranda (an early enrollee), C.J. Thorpe, Desmond Holmes and Rob Martin — will only add to the line’s depth.

“I think our offensive line will be a strength moving forward,” Franklin said.

Franklin and defensive recruiting coordinator Terry Smith are particularly high on Thorpe, a four-star guard from Pittsburgh.

“I think C.J. Thorpe is one of the best players in this recruiting class,” Smith said. “He’s going to have an immediate impact.”

Thorpe’s dad, Chris, played at PSU in the '80s, and his older brother Niko is a linebacker at Fordham, having been recruited by current Lions offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead when he was the Rams’ head coach.

“He’s a grown man,” Franklin said of the younger Thorpe, who carries 300-plus pounds on a 6-4 frame. “He’s an offensive lineman with a nastiness to him. He wants to finish you.”

Thorpe flirted with UCLA and Michigan in the weeks leading up to signing day, but his dad said last week that his son never really wavered; rather, Chris merely wanted his son to weigh all his options. 

Franklin seemed to concur.

“You say we had to fight for him at the end,” he said. “I don’t know if that was necessarily the case.”

Some other notes from Signing Day:

• Wade “will have the opportunity to play both sides of the ball,” Smith said, but in spring practice he will concentrate on defense.

“We just want to get him to where he knows the system defensively,” Smith said, adding that Wade “brings the ability to play the nickel position.”

Wade also played running back in high school.

• Hippenhammer, a switch-hitting shortstop, will get the chance to play baseball, according to Franklin.

“That’s something selfishly as a football coach, I want him to play football,” he added.

But he also called baseball coach Rob Cooper “my guy,” and said they worked hand in hand in Hippenhammer’s recruitment.

“If it works out (that he can double up), great,” Franklin said.

• Yetur Matos, a defensive end from Fredericksburg, Virginia, “may be the sleeper of the class,” in Franklin’s opinion. He timed out well, the head coach said, and will add strength to his 6-5, 245-pound frame.

• Jonathan Sutherland, a safety from Alexandria, Virginia, is a hitter. In fact, Smith said, “He’s much like Marcus (Allen), but he’s not as big as Marcus.” Sutherland, who carries 195 pounds on his 6-foot frame, is also a good cover guy, in Smith’s estimation.

Big East game of the year on tap for Villanova

USA Today Images

Big East game of the year on tap for Villanova

NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and senior producer Sean Kane get you set for all the weekend’s local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. Look for this column every Friday during the college basketball season.
No. 3 Villanova (23-3, 10-3 Big East) at No. 4 Xavier (24-3, 12-2), Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
: Villanova limps into Saturday's Top 5 showdown with No. 4 Xavier in both a literal and figurative sense. The third-ranked Wildcats will once again be without Phil Booth as he recovers from a broken hand. Eric Paschall is still rounding into form after returning from the concussion protocol in Wednesday's loss at Providence. Then there's Omari Spellman, who played against Providence with a facemask after suffering a facial fracture last weekend.
Injuries are the norm this time of year — every team in the country is dealing with them in some fashion. But there's no doubt that injuries to key players have taken their toll on the Wildcats, who have lost two of their last three games and didn't play particularly well in the one game they managed to win.

Wednesday's 76-71 loss to Providence was Villanova's worst performance of the season. The Wildcats turned the ball over 19 times, shot just 3 of 20 from three-point range and missed a handful of critical free throws. As a result, they trailed for the vast majority of the game, fighting an uphill battle they weren't able to win because of an uncharacteristic number of mental and physical mistakes.
But this is no time for Jay Wright's team to harp on the past. Regular-season games don't get much bigger than Saturday's visit to Xavier. Let's run through the checklist of what's at stake. The winner hops into the driver's seat in the race for the Big East regular-season championship, a title that Villanova has claimed in each of the last four seasons. If Villanova loses Saturday, it would fall two games behind Xavier in the loss column in the league standings. The Musketeers have just three games remaining after Saturday, so a two-game lead with three left pretty much wraps up the league title for Xavier. If Villanova wins Saturday, it would pull even with Xavier in the loss column but would own the tiebreaker thanks to a season sweep of the Musketeers. In that case, the Wildcats could win a fifth straight Big East regular-season championship by winning their remaining four games.
In addition to the regular-season league title, the accompanying No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament also hangs in the balance. Most importantly, No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament are also on the line. At the moment, both Villanova and Xavier are projected as 1-seeds in the Field of 68 next month. Saturday's winner will strengthen its grip on a No. 1 seed by adding a Top 5 win to its resume. The loser will be in serious jeopardy of missing out on any chance to be on the top line come Selection Sunday.
There's also the possibility of Villanova losing two straight games for the first time since March 2013. The Wildcats take a lot of pride in being able to bounce back following a poor performance. They'll have a golden opportunity to display that characteristic yet again in front of a national audience on Saturday.
The Wildcats are well aware of the importance of this weekend's matchup with Xavier. But that doesn't mean they'll treat the game any differently than the rest of their games this season. The one-game-at-a-time mindset has served the Villanova program well over the last five years. Jalen Brunson personifies that approach, and I expect him to come out extra motivated following his worst game of the season at Providence.
Xavier has plenty going for it on Saturday. First and foremost, the Musketeers will be super motivated to essentially wrap up their first-ever Big East regular-season championship. Xavier is led by a senior class of Trevon Bluiett, JP Macura, Sean O'Mara and Kerem Kanter, a group that would like nothing more than to end their careers by dethroning Villanova as kings of the Big East. Xavier is also playing at home against a team that beat them by 24 points earlier this season, so the revenge factor is strong.
But I think the character of the Villanova program ends up carrying the day. Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Paschall have played in and won plenty of big games. For the first time in their careers, they are being doubted by people on the outside. I expect the Wildcats to seize this opportunity to show they're still the class of the Big East despite their recent struggles. Look for a few big plays from Brunson down the stretch.
Villanova 78, Xavier 75
Houston (20-5, 10-3 AAC) at Temple (15-11, 7-7), Sunday at 4 p.m.
AF: The Owls have found something at this point in the season, and it couldn’t come at a better time because February is the month it seems that the NCAA Tournament selection committee pays attention to the most. 
So it would have been a huge resume-builder if Temple was able to keep that lead over Top 20 ranked Wichita State on the road Thursday night. The Owls rained down 11 threes in the first half to build a 15-point lead. They scored 56 points in the opening frame, a season high. There was a game a month ago when Temple scored only 39 in the entire game.
The Shockers defense didn’t let that scoring continue in the second half, and they shut down Obi Enechionyia down the stretch. The senior did finish with 17 points, but he scored 11 of the Owls' first 13 points after the opening tip-off.
It was the first loss in six games for Fran Dunphy’s team. Coming in, the Owls had won five in a row and seven of their last eight. If they want to get back on the winning streak, they’ll have a tough test this weekend with Houston.
The Cougars just took down No. 5 Cincinnati for the program’s first win over a top-five team in over 20 years. It also gave Houston its 20th win of the season. One of the key factors in the upset win for Houston was offensive rebounds — 11 of them led to 17 second-chance points. When you are supposedly overmatched, taking advantage of those opportunities is key for pulling off the upset.
The good news is that Temple has been playing well and shooting well. The bad news is that so is Houston. But this one is at the Liacouras Center and it’s Hooter the Owl’s birthday party. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for mascots.
Temple 71, Houston 68
Penn (17-7, 7-1 Ivy) at Columbia (6-15, 3-5), Friday at 7 p.m.
Penn (17-7, 7-1 Ivy) at Cornell (9-12, 3-5), Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

SK: Penn has reached the midway point of the Ivy League schedule deadlocked with Harvard atop the conference standings. The Quakers missed an opportunity to take control of the league last weekend when they suffered their first conference loss at Harvard. But this weekend offers a chance to get back on the winning track against a pair of middling teams in Columbia and Cornell. Granted both games are on the road and as even the top-ranked teams in the country can attest, road games are no bargain this time of year.
The Quakers have no margin for error if they hope to win the Ivy League title and earn the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. Penn beat both Columbia and Cornell earlier this season at the Palestra but both games were tightly contested. Sophomore big man AJ Brodeur continues to play the role of steadying force for Penn, averaging 17.0 points and 7.7 rebounds in his last three games. Brodeur put up a season-high 30 points in the first meeting of the season against Columbia. Look for another big effort by Brodeur on Friday to get Penn's weekend road trip off to a winning start.
Penn 70, Columbia 63
Penn 67, Cornell 60

Duquesne (15-11, 6-7 A-10) at Saint Joseph's (11-14, 6-7), Saturday at 6 p.m.
: The Hawks picked up a rare road win this week when they took down Fordham Wednesday. Yes, the Rams are at the bottom of the Atlantic 10 standings, but a win is a win, and it snapped an eight-game road losing streak for St. Joe’s.
The Hawks are back home this weekend with a chance to make it three wins in a row when they welcome Duquesne to town. The Hawks' last two wins have come against teams below them in the conference standings. That will not be the case for the rest of February when they’ll face teams either tied with or above them in the A-10.
The Dukes are one such team at 6-7 in the standings, but they do have an overall winning record, something the Hawks nor their most recent opponents can say. Duquesne is much improved this year, already posting five more wins at this point than it had all of last season. Keith Dambrot has been a home-run hire for the Dukes, and if that name sounds familiar, you are either a big MAC fan, a big Akron Zips fan or a huge LeBron James fan. Dambrot coached LBJ in high school and is the winningest coach in Akron history.
So there are your fun facts for the day. I’d like to think that St. Joe’s has also turned a bit of a corner but they had a lackluster second half in the win over Fordham, a team much less talented than the Dukes squad coming in this weekend.
Duquesne 72, Saint Joseph’s 67
George Mason (12-14, 6-7 A-10) at La Salle (10-16, 4-9), Saturday at 2 p.m.
: La Salle hasn't been showing much punch as the regular season winds down. The Explorers have lost three in a row and are 3-9 in their last 12. The latest setback came in the form of an 11-point home loss to St. Bonaventure on Tuesday. Sophomore guard Saul Phiri was a bright spot, scoring a career-high 22 points and knocking down 5 of 9 threes. It was an impressive performance for a guy averaging a little over six points per game on the season.
Saturday's visit from George Mason represents a chance for La Salle to rediscover a little winning mojo. The Patriots are only a couple games ahead of the Explorers in the A-10 standings but they've won three of their last four. It will be telling if the Explorers come out swinging Saturday afternoon or if they've already packed it in for the season. I expect a spirited effort. La Salle is every bit as talented as George Mason and more importantly in desperate need of some good vibes at this point in the season. Expect the Explorers to pull out a tight one and end their three-game losing skid.
La Salle 77, George Mason 74
Drexel (11-17, 5-10 CAA) at Hofstra (16-11, 9-6), Saturday at 4 p.m.
: Earlier, I gave you some fun facts about Duquesne and its improvement from last season. So let’s continue that theme with Drexel. The Dragons already have two more wins than they did all of last season, and more importantly, they also already have two more conference wins than they earned all of last season. 
They’ve done that with some improbable wins over teams that, on paper, they should have lost handily to.
Thursday, it was almost another one of those type of wins for Drexel when it nearly took down one of the top CAA teams on the road with a narrow loss to Northeastern. Now, a chance to do it against Hofstra. The Pride are close to the top of the CAA, with a winning record and wins over Northeastern and William and Mary under their belts.
Yes, on paper this should be a Hofstra win. But I have picked Drexel to lose too many of these games this year and seemingly every time I do that, I get it wrong. So if I’m going down, I’m going down swinging. The Dragons are showing fight and firepower. They can score and defend with the best teams in their conference. Yes, it’s on the road, but I like them to snap their three-game losing streak.
Drexel 75, Hofstra 74
Prediction records
Sean Kane: 23-10
Amy Fadool: 21-16

Misery continues for lowly Delaware

AP Images

Misery continues for lowly Delaware


TOWSON, Md. -- Mike Morsell had 19 points and Brian Starr added 15 as Towson held Delaware to two points over the final four minutes to win 67-65 on Thursday night.

Delaware's Ryan Allen pulled up to shoot a 3-pointer in the final seconds, but Eddie Keith II blocked it to secure the win.

Trailing 63-61, Keith hit a jumper with 3:33 remaining to tie and Alex Thomas split a pair of free throws to give the Tigers a 64-63 lead with 2:49 left. Keith added another free throw and Starr dropped in two more before Delaware's Ryan Daley scored on a fast break to close to 67-65 with 14 seconds left.

Delaware had a 32-30 halftime advantage but the Tigers (18-10, 8-7 Colonial Athletic Association) won the second period 37-33. There were 16 ties and 12 lead changes in the game.

Morsell hit 3 of 6 from distance and Starr made 4 of 7 from the floor with two treys.

Ryan Daly and Anthony Mosley had 18 points apiece to lead Delaware (11-17, 4-11), who have lost nine straight.