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Early Execution Boosts Penn State Men’s Soccer In Big Ten Tournament Opener

Just a week after winning his first Big Ten regular-season title, Jeff Cook and Penn State men’s soccer cleared the next hurdle by defeating Michigan State in the conference tournament’s quarterfinals.

The 2-0 win, punctuated by a Peter Mangione goal scored just seconds into the proceedings, clinched a semifinal showdown with No. 4 Michigan at Jeffrey Field on Wednesday.

“Tonight was a great example of knockout soccer,” Cook said after the game. “I couldn’t have asked for a better start to get in front, and then Andrew [Privett’s] goal was first class, a special moment individually.”

While the first 15 minutes produced the all-important two goals, the Nittany Lions didn’t necessarily dominate the proceedings. It was a pretty lackluster game, and Penn State got outshot 12-7, 5-3 on goal.

However, Cook’s side was clinical and was able to punch the Spartans in the mouth early. Michigan State had some great chances toward the end, but goalkeeper Kris Shakes stood on his head to keep the clean sheet.

“[Shakes] was great. He held onto a good number of shots. He’s been really good for us ever since he’s been here at Penn State, and he is worthy of recognition. I’m super happy for him,” Mangione said.

Cook noted that the final 20 minutes or so, when Farai Mutatu, Jack Beck, and the rest of the Michigan State attack was throwing the kitchen sink, were a sign of knockout soccer.

Penn State’s head coach has preached of the parity in the Big Ten all season long, and how there is a very small gap between first and last. On Sunday, that was clearly true with how nervy the end of the match was.

“I believe that that is the reality of tournament soccer, it’s a really valuable experience for us to go through that and come out the other side with a victory. There were moments in possession where we were rushed,” Cook said.

“I believe that has as much to do with psychology than anything else. You have it, right? You can touch the win and the advancement to the semifinal,” Cook added. “In moments that can cause a team or player to be a little more cautious, when that’s the opposite of what you should do, you can’t practice that — you have to experience it. That’s why I’m so happy that we advanced and that we can learn and hope that we are in that situation again in the semifinal.”

Cook noted that although Penn State expected to advance, the Nittany Lions won’t take a win for granted.

The win seals another postseason match at Jeffrey Field for Penn State, which is a welcome sight for a team that holds a 7-2-1 record at home.

“It means so much to us. We love the home-field advantage,” Mangione said. “We knew coming in that we would have a big advantage over Michigan State, and we needed to show that. We wanted to get a goal right away and put the pressure on, and that’s what we did.”

Looking ahead, Penn State will face a Michigan squad that the Nittany Lions defeated 2-1 on October 10. A month later, that same Wolverine group is firmly on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament conversation, and a victory over the Big Ten champions would more or less seal its passage.

Mangione and the rest of the Nittany Lions know the task at hand, and they know that they cannot provide Michigan with as many chances as the Spartans got late on in the match.

“The biggest thing is to be the best version of ourselves. Tactically, we aren’t going to change much. Be good on the ball, dominate, score goals,” Mangione said.

Kickoff is set for noon on Wednesday, November 10, at Jeffrey Field. Should the Nittany Lions win, they’d host either Indiana or Northwestern in next Sunday’s final. All matches from here on out will be on the Big Ten Network.

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About the Author

Otis Lyons

Otis is a sophomore majoring in print journalism and is one of Onward State's associate editors. He lives just north of San Francisco, and is a diehard San Jose Earthquakes fan. Feel free to send over your soccer hot takes to his twitter @otisnlyons1 and instagram @otislyons

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