Penn State players react to hiring of Franklin

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Penn State players react to hiring of Franklin

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- James Franklin is the third football coach in what for many Penn State football players will be four seasons and already has left a good first impression.

The 41-year-old Franklin, who spent three years resurrecting Vanderbilt's program and guided the Commodores to a 24-15 record, has been labeled a players' coach by a group of Nittany Lion players who have had an oversized dash of change and more than a pinch of adversity on their Penn State plate.

Franklin became Penn State's 16th coach on Saturday, replacing Bill O'Brien, who took over the NFL's Houston Texans after replacing the late Joe Paterno in 2012.

Franklin wasted no time getting acclimated. He lured in four recruits, glad-handed with fans at three Penn State winter sporting events and ultimately met his new football family on Sunday night.

"I'd be lying to you if I said it wasn't a little crazy, watching it on TV and being home over break," offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach said Tuesday. "There was nothing we could do about it and we knew (athletic director) Dave Joyner would pick someone great. Coach Franklin is a real players' coach. He cares a lot about the team. That's something I really look forward to, building a relationship with him."

Penn State's roster remains relatively young, but players have survived more than one passing storm.

They dealt with the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal from which came harsh NCAA sanctions, the firing and then death of the legendary Paterno, the coming and going of O'Brien and Monday's announcement by veteran defensive line coach Larry Johnson that, according to various news reports, he was going to go to work for Big Ten rival Ohio State.

"Looking back on it we really have been through a whole lot," Dieffenbach said. "It builds character and builds strength. We want to win some games and we think Coach Franklin is the coach to help us do that."

Franklin has yet to officially name a coaching staff or training personnel, something the players are waiting on.

"We have a good group of guys and should be able to transition pretty easily," linebacker Mike Hull said. "You have to take everything with a grain of salt and keep moving forward. We've been through a lot, we don't have to change who we are. The thing you really need to do is establish yourself as a hard worker and just let your coaches know you're 100 percent dedicated to the team."

Maintaining that strong work ethic was part of Franklin's initial speech, according to defensive back Jordan Lucas.

"He (Franklin) introduced himself and said what an honor it was to be the coach here at Penn State," Lucas said. "The message he gave us is that we're going to outwork everybody and everybody is on board with it. We see his vision and we're going to work really hard to make that happen."

Sunday's team meeting was a welcome reunion, according to Dieffenbach.

"We walked in there and it was really like nothing had changed," he said. "Guys were having a great time. We joked about it. We missed each other. We couldn't wait to get back and be together. It's the sign of a tight-knit team. Team morale has never been higher. You have to build new relationships. Your job as a team is to buy in completely, 100 percent as team, and that's what we're going to do."

St. Joe's, Lamarr Kimble cut down on mistakes in win over Penn

St. Joe's, Lamarr Kimble cut down on mistakes in win over Penn

BOX SCORE

The last thing Saint Joseph’s basketball players usually read before they leave the locker room is one word: “Win.” It’s the word coach Phil Martelli typically goes with.

But after three straight defeats and losses in four of five since losing top scorer Shavar Newkirk to a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 30, Martelli decided to change what he wrote on the board.

Saturday night at the Palestra, in a St. Joe’s home game against Big 5 rival Penn, Martelli said he wrote: “Chase the taste.”

Led by sophomore point guard Lamarr Kimble, who played all 40 minutes, the Hawks tasted a victory, holding off the Quakers, 78-71 (see Instant Replay).

“To walk around for two weeks without a win, it’s been miserable,” Martelli said. “And I haven’t made it easier on them. Because we are not injured. This team is not injured. The team that got dressed in that locker room and came out on the court, that’s our team. Everybody starts the conversation with: ‘Due to the injuries have you…’ No. It has nothing to do with it. There’s injuries all over the country. 

“But the recurring themes, the turnovers, really, in a way, insanity. Shot selection at times, insanity. All of that had to be corrected and it had to be corrected in a harsh way. I wasn’t really that pleased with myself but I had to get after them and make sure they knew no one felt sorry for them.”

Kimble, especially.

With Newkirk gone for the year, the Hawks are probably going to go as far as the Neumann-Goretti grad takes them. In a familiar building, one which he tasted Catholic League titles in, Kimble led all scorers with 23 points. He added five assists and three rebounds. 

But, most importantly, he had just two turnovers. In the five previous contests since Newkirk’s injury, Kimble had 31 turnovers, including nine last time out in a loss to Massachusetts. 

“First of all his leadership hasn’t changed at all,” Martelli said. “He’s been very forceful, very accountable. He has not played well.”

You wouldn’t have known it Saturday night. 

The confident guard shot 6 of 13 from the floor, including 2 for 5 from deep, and made nine of his 11 free throw attempts. In a game which the Hawks utilized a speed advantage to play, as Martelli called it, “downhill,” Kimble and James Demery (9 of 12 from the line) really opened up the floor in the second half after Penn had battled back from a 15-point deficit to take a brief lead.

The Hawks (9-9, 2-4 Atlantic 10) got to the line 43 times (shooting 72 percent) while Penn (6-9) took just 15 free throws.

Demery had 15 points for the game, 11 coming in the second half. Freshman Charlie Brown contributed a career-high 19 points and nine boards.

The three of them were critical down the stretch in pulling away from Penn, which got 19 points from Matt Howard and 15 from freshman Ryan Betley.

Betley hit a big corner three to pull Penn within four, 66-62, with 2:44 left. But after two Brown free throws and a stop on defense, Kimble was fouled shooting a three pointer by Penn’s Jackson Donahue with the shot clock expiring. The miss would have given Penn a chance with a manageable clock.

Instead, he made two of his three attempts and pushed the lead to eight with just over a minute and a half left.

“There was a lot going into this game,” Kimble said. “One, playing at the Palestra, everybody knows the amount of history. It’s the Mecca, basically. The place to play in college basketball. Two, reversing our three-game losing streak and trying to start fresh. We know that if we took our losses and took our stunts that we still have the chance to improve as a group.

“It does a lot. It’s definitely a confidence booster. We’ve got a lot of young kids. Young kids ride on winning. When you’re losing, it’s difficult to turn that around when you’re younger. We don’t have the most experienced group so we definitely have to take our wins and just ride on that and keep pushing. Hopefully the energy has changed and it’ll hopefully carry on to the next game.”

That next game is Tuesday.

“Tomorrow we start for a tough game at St. Bonaventure,” Martelli said. “And we start that in eighth place. That’s average for the league. And 9-9 (overall) is average."

Up to this point, they’ve been exactly that: average. Martelli acknowledged as much.

But Saturday changed the taste in the locker room. And provided enough proof to say Kimble’s play will go a long way in determining the fate of the Hawks.

“I’m with him. He’s with me,” Martelli said. “And we’ll ride this out.”

Instant Replay: St. Joe's 78, Penn 71

Instant Replay: St. Joe's 78, Penn 71

BOX SCORE

With two teams entering action on three-game losing skids and still trying to find footing midway through the year, it was one of those games - especially in the Big 5 - where, quite simply, someone had to win. 

And in a game that featured lengthy runs on both sides, Saint Joseph’s ended up being that team, holding off the University of Pennsylvania, 78-71, at the Palestra Saturday night.

St. Joe's, the official home team on the ticket at the Palestra, led by as many as 15 in the first half before a 12-1 Quakers run led to a four-point Hawks lead, 35-31, at the break.

Penn got a hold of the lead, 36-35, with an early second half spurt but the Hawks, led by Lamarr Kimble’s 23 points (13 in the second half), were able to make more plays and pick up their first win in two weeks.

The loss was the Quakers’ fourth straight. They’ve yet to win in 2017.

Joining Kimble in double figures for the Hawks were Charlie Brown (career-high 19 points), James Demery (15) and Chris Clover (10).

Penn was paced by Matt Howard’s 19 points. Freshman Ryan Betley had 15, including a couple key threes.

Betley’s corner triple got the Quakers within four, 66-62, with 2:44 left.

But the Hawks scored the next four to seize control.

Turning point
In a close second half looking for a turning point, perhaps a whistle was the moment the game turned.

Late in the shot clock, with the Hawks clinging to a six-point lead, Kimble rose up from deep and was fouled by Jackson Donahue of Penn. All Quakers coach Steve Donahue could do was walk quietly to the other end of his bench in disgust. Kimble made 2 of 3 to push the St. Joe's lead to 70-62 with a little more than a minute to go.

A stop, which Penn would have had if Kimble wasn’t fouled, and the Quakers would have had a chance to cut it to a two-possession game with a manageable clock.

What it means
St. Joe’s, now 51-35 all-time against Penn, needed a confidence booster as it turns back to the crowded Atlantic 10.

Penn is still trying to find the right rotations to win games.

Inside the box score
Penn took 18 shots from beyond the arc in the first half. The Quakers made four of them. They made four on 14 threes in the second half.

Off turnovers, Penn outscored St. Joe’s, 17-4.

The Hawks won the battle in the paint, 36-18.

Penn had 32 fouls as a team and had two players (Tyler Hamilton and Betley) foul out.

Kimble, coming off a nine turnover game, went 9-11 from the free-throw line and had five assists against two turnovers.

Up next
St. Joe’s gets back into A-10 play Tuesday at St. Bonaventure before hosting La Salle next Saturday on City Ave.

Penn plays at La Salle Wednesday before a tough Ivy League road weekend the following weekend at Harvard and Dartmouth to kick off February.