Penn State Goes Cold Late, Falls to Illinois
Before the college basketball season started in November, Illinois and Penn State were optimistic regarding their respective outcomes this season. Both teams, however, came into the Bryce Jordan Center on Sunday desperately needing a Big Ten win.
Illinois (14-10) snapped an eight-game losing streak, pulling away for a 60-55 win. It was the first win for the Illini since Jan. 4th, when the Illini beat Penn State (12-12) in Champaign.
“Every once in a while you want that reward to win a basketball game so I’m really happy for our players,” said Illinois head coach John Groce. “I thought that going into the game that it was going to take everybody.”
Illinois was paced by career-highs from freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill with 19 and 11 points respectively. The two were inserted into the starting lineup for seniors Jon Ekey and Joseph Bertrand.
“They (Ekey and Bertrand) had to make some sacrifices,” Groce said. “I really felt like Nunn and Hill evolved and earned that opportunity the way they learned our defense.”
All 10 Illinois players that saw action contributed at least 10 minutes of playing time.
Penn State was able to get out to a 16-7 lead in the first half, only to see it erased by a 10-0 run by the Illini. A 9-0 run by the Nittany Lions in the final 2:51 of the first half tied the game at 31 heading into the break.
The offenses took a back seat to the defensive efforts by both teams after the 12 minute media timeout, when Penn State held a 50-49 lead.
“We should have kept attacking,” senior guard Tim Frazier said on the offensive slump in the second half. “Our staple is defending and rebounding so if we can’t score we want to continue to defend.”
“It’s a long time not to score,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. “Their defense was terrific on Tim (Frazier) and D.J. (Newbill) and they made the winning plays when they needed to.”
One positive from the day was Frazier breaking the Penn State career assist record early in first half, off a layup from junior forward Donovon Jack.
“It’s a great accomplishment and it’s a team accomplishment,” Frazier said. “They had a big deal to do with it and it’s great to be mentioned with all the great names.”
Junior D.J. Newbill and Frazier paced the Nittany Lions on the day with 19 and 11 points respectively. Newbill had the only five points for Penn State in the last 11:21 of the second half.
Penn State is now staring down another losing streak, after winning three in a row prior to their loss on Thursday at Michigan State.
“We got to knock down some shots and they just didn’t bounce our way today,” Chambers said. “We really were struggling to score.”
A missed free throw by Newbill left the Nittany Lion deficit at one with just under a minute to play. The “Orange Krush” presence sucked the air out of the Bryce Jordan Center after Nunn knocked down a three in the corner with 22 seconds to go. Three combined free throws from junior guards Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice sealed the Illini victory.
“I give Nunn credit for hitting that corner three,” Chambers said. “They keep getting better and we’ll take it,” Groce said.
Penn State will take on Indiana in Bloomington, on Wednesday, before their next home game on Saturday, when the Nittany Lions take on Iowa. The matchup with the Hawkeyes can be heard in full on ComRadio.
Ryan Stevens is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
Photo Courtesy: (AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Abby Drey)