James Franklin dominating the state as he enters Year 4 at PSU

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James Franklin dominating the state as he enters Year 4 at PSU

After being introduced as Penn State’s head coach in January 2014, James Franklin said something that will either be etched on his tombstone or scrawled upon it by graffiti artists.

He said he wanted to “dominate the state.”

He was talking specifically about recruiting, which in truth is (and always has been) the goal of the guy heading the commonwealth's highest-profile Division I football program: You want to keep the best kids close to home.

The phrase was nonetheless used to mock him as his team struggled through consecutive 7-6 seasons his first two years on the job. The Lions broke out in 2016, going 11-3 and winning the Big Ten, and now it can be said with certainty that he has lived up to his vow — that while he and his staff have generally excelled on the recruiting trail, they have done particularly well in their backyard.

That very much includes the Delaware Valley, as stands to reason: Franklin is a Langhorne native.

Of the 120 players listed on the Nittany Lions’ preseason roster, 45 are Pennsylvanians. That’s 37.5 percent and includes a guy who is not only the best player on the team but also one of the best in the country, running back Saquon Barkley. While a native of the Bronx, he grew up near Allentown. 

With a couple New Jerseyans factored in, there are 14 from Philadelphia and its environs. They include left tackle Ryan Bates (Warrington/Archbishop Wood), the Lions’ best offensive lineman, starting defensive tackle Curtis Cothran (Newtown/Council Rock North) and starting defensive end Shareef Miller (Philadelphia/George Washington).

Also in that number are Miller’s two primary backups, Ryan Buchholz (Malvern/Great Valley) and Shaka Toney (Philadelphia/Imhotep Charter), as well as starting wide receiver Juwan Johnson (Glassboro, New Jersey), who is widely viewed as a breakout candidate this season, his first as a regular.

(Not included on the season’s first depth chart, released Tuesday, was cornerback John Reid [Mount Laurel, New Jersey/St. Joe’s Prep]. A returning starter, he injured a knee during spring practice and is expected to miss much of the season, if not all of it.)

“Obviously for us to be the team we want to be and have the type of program that we want to have, we have to go a great job in the state of Pennsylvania,” Franklin said Tuesday, as he looked ahead to Saturday’s season opener against Akron.

He noted not only his ties to the Philadelphia area but also the fact that some of his former teammates at East Stroudsburg, where he played quarterback in the early 1990s, have gone into coaching.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” he said, “when you can walk into a high school office and you’ve got a relationship, and you kind of understand those schools and their backgrounds and their strengths and their weaknesses, all those types of things, it helps. It really does. They have a familiarity with you, you have a familiarity with them and there’s trust there. So I think all those relationships and those networks have been critical to what we’ve been able to do so far.”

Bates is a guy all the big schools wanted, after serving as a two-way tackle on a Wood club that won consecutive state titles in 2013 and 2014. He redshirted his first year at PSU while beginning the growth process from 275 pounds to his current 315. Last season, he started the first 10 games at left guard and the last four at left tackle, after injuries left the Lions threadbare at the latter position.

“It wasn’t that big of a deal for me,” he said. “I do feel more comfortable out at tackle, honestly. I feel better in space. I trust my feet.”

He wound up making a pair of freshman All-America teams, and line coach Matt Limegrover now regards the redshirt sophomore as a guy who is “going to be a cornerstone for us the next three years.”

The other locals have grown into their roles as well — in Cothran’s case, literally. He was a 230-pound defensive end when he arrived on campus in 2013. He is now listed at 295, and after starting eight games last year said Tuesday that he considers it “a blessing” to be listed as the regular heading into the opener.

“And,” he added, “it definitely just shows the amount of work that goes into it. I mean, nothing's ever easy, especially in college football. Through the years of grinding everything out, I'm thankful to be here.”

Same for Johnson, who last year recorded his first two career catches but is now filling the spot played in 2016 by Chris Godwin, a third-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“Sleep on me if you want to,” it said on Johnson’s Twitter page at one point during spring practice. “I’ll wake you up soon.”

By then the 6-foot-4, 218-pound redshirt sophomore had awakened just about everybody. Admittedly inconsistent his first two seasons in the program, his strides were such that receivers coach Josh Gattis called him “one of the most improved players on the team” in an interview with the Big Ten Network.

Nothing appears to have changed since then.

“Eager season,” it now says on Johnson’s Twitter page.

The defensive end corps likewise oozes potential, despite the departures of the starters Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan. Miller and Buchholz both saw plenty of action last year — position coach Sean Spencer prefers to rotate fresh bodies — and redshirt freshmen like Shane Simmons and Toney are intriguing prospects.

Cothran, in fact, called Simmons “a freak of nature,” and Bates said much the same of Toney, who is unusually slight (6-3, 218) for his position.

“Shaka,” Bates said, “is probably one of the fastest guys I've ever gone against. I feel like I'm playing a corner at defensive end just because of his sheer speed and his quickness coming off the ball.”

The Lions likewise appear to have turned a corner. And it is in large part because they have taken some familiar exits.

Penn State adds to its bragging rights over Temple

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Penn State adds to its bragging rights over Temple


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Josh Reaves had his second career double-double, Shep Garner hit two 3-pointers in the final three minutes and Penn State overcame an 11-point second-half deficit to beat Temple 63-57 on Wednesday night in the first round of the NIT.

Reaves shot 7 of 10 from the field, including a career-high tying four 3-pointers, and finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds.

Tony Carr missed 10 consecutive field-goal attempts before scoring his first points of the game on a jumper that pulled Penn State within four with 6:20 to play. That sparked a 16-2 run to give the Nittany Lions a 62-54 lead with 16 seconds left.

Reaves and Garner hit back-to-back 3s to make it 54-all before John Harrar's layup with 1:52 remaining gave Penn State its first lead since 4-3. The Owls made just 1 of 9 from the field and committed three turnovers during the span.

Shizz Alston Jr. led Temple (17-16), which led for more than 35 minutes, with 15 points and Josh Brown added 14.

Carr and Garner -- who came in averaging 19.9 and 11.1 points per game, respectively -- combined to score 10 on 3-of-19 shooting for the Nittany Lions (22-13).

The Owls made just 5 of 14 free throws while Penn State hit 20 of 30.

It was the 93rd meeting between the schools, which are located less than 200 miles apart, but the first since 2011. The Nittany Lions snapped a seven-game skid in the series, dating to Dec. 9, 2000.

Penn State's NCAA tournament hopes severely dented

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Penn State's NCAA tournament hopes severely dented


NEW YORK — Purdue threw a little of everything at Penn State star Tony Carr, the Big Ten's leading scorer. Bigger guys. Smaller ones. Switches and some double teams.

Carr managed only 12 points in a woeful shooting game, and No. 8 Purdue separated from Penn State in the second half of a 78-70 victory Saturday that put the Boilermakers in the Big Ten Tournament championship game for the second time in three seasons.

Third-seeded Purdue (28-5) faces No. 5 Michigan, which will try to repeat as tournament champs on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

Purdue frustrated Carr and held him to 4-of-18 shooting. The sophomore faced an array of defenders, including the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Nojel Eastern, 5-10 P.J. Thompson, 6-4 Dakota Mathias, 6-8 Vincent Edwards and 6-1 Carsen Edwards.

"When you have a good player like that it takes more than one guy because he's able to make shots and make plays over guys," Vincent Edwards said. "They just did a good job of taking up that space and being able to force him into tough shots."

Shep Garner led the Nittany Lions (21-12) with a career-high 33 points and the senior set a school record with 129 career points in the Big Ten Tournament.

The Boilermakers will be making their third appearance in the Big Ten championship since the tournament started in 1998. Their one championship came in 2009.

Against Penn State, Purdue used a 12-2 run the middle of the second half to build a 15-point lead. Carsen Edwards led the way, spinning through the lane for a driving layup and making a 3 from up top that made the score 59-44 with 9:15 left. He finished with 27 points and shot 6 of 9 from 3-point range after scoring 26 on Friday against Rutgers.

"It's a consistency," guard Dakota Mathias said of Edwards. "He's being very efficient, too."

Edwards made back-to-back 3s to make it 74-56 with 3:41 left and Purdue was on its way to play for a title.

Isaac Haas, the 7-2 center, added 17 points and seven rebounds for Purdue.

With Carr struggling, Penn State could not keep up. He picked up a third foul in the second half, a push off call that caused Penn State coach Pat Chambers to draw a technical.

"I think they were very physical," Chambers said. "Obviously that's why I felt like I needed to get T'd up, my first T in a long, long time."

Big Picture
Penn State: The Nittany Lions had a chance to work their way into the conversation for an NCAA at-large bid by beating Purdue, but now Penn State seems like a long shot at best. Chambers is still hopefully.

"Well, I'm an optimist," he said. "We have NCAA Tournament talent."

Purdue: The Boilermakers hit a rough patch losing three straight close games in early February to Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin, but an argument can be made that they have been the Big Ten's most consistent team this season.

"We had an opportunity to win the Big Ten regular season. We kind of gave that away," said Thompson, one of four senior starters. "But we still had a goal of winning a Big Ten championship on our list before the season started and we put ourselves in position to be able to do that tomorrow."

Purdue does most everything well, except rebound. A night after giving up 17 offensive boards to Rutgers, the Boilermakers allowed 16 rebounds to Penn State.

Shep Shooter
Garner went 4 for 5 from 3-point range, including a four-point play, to carry Penn State in the first half. The Nittany Lions led much of the way, but Edwards made a 3 for Purdue with 2 seconds left in the half to send the Boilermakers to the break ahead 33-31.

Up Next
Penn State: An NIT bid is likely coming the Nittany Lions way, though the big question beyond March is whether Carr returns for another season or heads to the NBA draft.

Purdue: The Boilermakers swept the Wolverines in two games decided by a combined five points.

"Just a really skilled offensive team," Carsen Edwards said. "They have a lot of options. For us it's going to come down to defense and getting stops."