Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions Fall To Illinois 60-55 On Sunday
They say the Big Ten isn't the prettiest conference in college basketball but still the toughest to play in, and that was all too evident Sunday afternoon as the Nittany Lions fell 60-55 to Illinois in a scrappy affair at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Looking for a fourth Big Ten victory this season, Penn State opened up a 16-7 lead in the first seven minutes. The Nittany Lions were hitting their shots and rebounding well on the defensive end.
Illinois bounced back though to take a nine point lead when Penn State hit an offensive slump midway through the first half. Penn State would go on a nine point run of its own -- taking only three possessions to tie the game in the final three minutes of the first half. Despite the offensive woes, the Nittany Lions found themselves tied with the Illini 31-31 at the break.
Penn State opened the second half strong with early contributions from Brandon Taylor who was held scoreless in the opening 20 minutes. Both teams traded baskets for the first nine minutes of the second half but the Nittany Lions would score only two baskets in the final 9:44 of regulation thanks to eight missed shots and poorly timed turnovers.
Up 54-53, Illinois would drain a deep three from the corner with just 22 seconds to go. That put the Illini up by four points. DJ Newbill would break the almost 10 minute scoring drought from the field to cut the lead to two, but Illinois' Tracy Abrams would hit two free throws to seal the deal.
"I thought Illinois did a really good job of packing it in. [Nnanna] Egwu had some timely blocks," Penn State coach Pat Chambers said after the game. "When we did get the fouls, we had to make free throws. It’s a long time not to score. We were in the 1-and-1 and I wanted us to drive the ball. I thought we took a couple of ill-advised threes late in the game when I’d like to see us put it inside and drive. They were good threes – they were open, but we couldn’t make them.
"I give Illinois credit, their defense on Tim [Frazier] and D.J. [Newbill] was terrific toward the end. Their freshmen stepped up. They made the winning plays and the big shots when they needed to make them. That was a desperate team we played. That was a battle – a flat out battle between two teams scratching and clawing. It’s unfortunate that one team has to win and it wasn’t us.
"That’s what I felt like since we were really struggling to score. We had chances and we had opportunities. We got layups, we got good shots, and got to the free throw line. We missed the front end of a 1-and-1, those are big time plays. We have to get stops. I have to get our guys in better position to get stops. I give [Kendrick] Nunn a ton of credit for hitting that corner three. It was a big time play."
The Nittany Lions were led by DJ Newbill's 19 points followed by Tim Frazier's 11 points and two assists which gave him the school record in that category. Donvon Jack and Brandon Taylor both chipped in eight points. Penn State is 1-7 on the year when only two players break into double figures.
Penn State falls to 3-8 in conference play with the season entering its final stages. With a 12-12 record Penn State could still find a way to end the season at .500 and a last gasp bid for the NIT.