Game Preview: Penn State vs. Illinois
Mitch Stewart, Jerome Taylor and Joe Skinner break down Penn State's matchup on Saturday against Illinois:
The final games in every teams’ regular season are vital because teams are jockeying for position and helping their tournament resume. Penn State is in that exact position after beating Maryland 74-70 on Wednesday.
The Nittany Lions improved to 7-6 in conference play and are currently sixth in the Big Ten standings. Lamar Stevens was the main reason for the victory over the Terrapins as he scored 25 points on 10-12 shooting.
His ability to get into the lane and score from the perimeter makes him a mismatch nightmare for opposing fours. Stevens is the X-factor against Illinois as he is able to dominate opponents in some games, but can disappear in games as well.
The Illinois big man that will be charged with defending the versatile sophomore forward is Leron Black, the Fighting Illini’s leading scorer. His 13 points and 11 rebounds were not able to overcome Wisconsin at home, even though he grabbed six offensive rebounds in the game.
The matchup in the backcourt is the key to the game as Illinois freshman guard Trent Frazier is one of the most promising guards in the Big Ten and is coming off a great performance against Wisconsin. His 32-point performance on 10-20 shooting, including seven made 3-pointers, proved he is capable of big games in conference play.
His counterpart Tony Carr has been one of the best guards in the conference as he is second in scoring and fifth in assists. At times, he can play a little out of control and make silly decisions when he over penetrates the defense. While those plays frustrate Pat Chambers and fans alike, Carr’s ability to shoot the ball from behind the arc makes him almost impossible to defend from the outside.
Shep Garner has been one of the Big Ten’s best shooters throughout the season as he is second in made 3-pointers with 73. His issues with consistency are apparent as he was on fire on the road against Ohio State but struggled from behind the arc in his next game against Rutgers.
Garner shoots 41 percent from the 3-point line, but the one aspect of his game that has improved the most from last season is his defense. His ability to stop opposing ball handlers out on the perimeter give Penn State a formidable defensive duo in him and Josh Reaves.
Reaves’ length and quick hands have caused problems for Big Ten opponents throughout conference play as he disrupts the offense with his energy. His offensive game has improved to the point where he is a consistent perimeter threat for the Nittany Lions and has made Sportscenter’s Top 10 plays the past two weeks with his emphatic jams in traffic.
The Nittany Lions’ ability to defend gives them a huge advantage over the Fighting Illini as opponents have scored at least 70 points in 10 of their 12 conference games. Illinois will put up a good fight with the game being played in Champaign, but Penn State has too much talent to not come out victorious.
Joseph Esquivel-Murphy is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and Spanish. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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