Penn State coach Patrick Chambers has long preached that the Nittany Lions' main objective is to be the best team they can be by the end of the year.
And while that has left many a close game on the wrong side of the record, it's hard to argue against the basketball the Nittany Lions have played in the month of February, beating Illinois on the road 83-76 on Saturday afternoon in Champaign.
The victory marked Penn State's second-straight this season and fourth in Big Ten play. The Nittany Lions have now defeated the Illini in five-straight meetings dating back to the 2016 season.
After a back-and-forth opening few minutes, Penn State managed to take a slight lead, growing it to 12-points, while leading as many as 15 over the span of the afternoon. Illinois would cut the deficit to just seven thanks to a corner three to end the final possession of the first half with the Nittany Lions ahead 39-32.
It was largely more of the same in the final 20 minutes as both teams traded baskets and Penn State maintained its comfortable margin until a 10-0 run by Illinois made it a five point game with 6:33 to go in regulation.
The Nittany Lions hung on though, making clutch free throws going 26-of-32 from the line while hitting important baskets in the game's final minutes. Lamar Stevens led all scorers with 25 points but got important contributions from Mike Watkins (10 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks) and an efficient 5-of-7 shooting outing from Josh Reaves for 14 of his own. Rasir Bolton continued his strong play off the bench with 11 points as well. Jamar Wheeler also continued his strong play with nine points and five assists as he continues to grow on the offensive end.
At 11-16 on the year and 4-12 in conference play, it's hard to argue that Penn State's season has been a success, but with the Nittany Lions playing well on both ends of the floor and four regular season games to go, they might just be able to avoid a sour taste in their mouth as the season comes to a close.
Penn State is back in action this Wednesday at the Bryce Jordan Center against currently No. 24 ranked Maryland. Tip is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.