Illinois reminded all of its fans Sunday night that playing a complete 40 minutes of basketball is something that does not come easy for them.
After a strong start to the game, Penn State took control and defeated Illinois, 74-52.
Shep Garner paced the Nittany Lions in scoring with 16 points and also dished out four assists.
Not far behind was Tony Carr, who scored 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting.
“Their pieces fit,” said Illinois head coach Brad Underwood. “That’s an NCAA Tournament team, and they have a great opportunity to prove it the rest of the way.
Junior forward Leron Black led all scorers with 18 points (6-of-10 shooting) and collected six rebounds.
Despite what the outcome of the game says, the Illini still outrebounded the Nittany Lions 32-28 and collected 14 offensive rebounds.
Illinois did even better in the first half on the boards, outrebounding Penn State 18-9 and hauling in nine offensive boards. Penn State compensated in the second by outrebounding Illinois, 19-14.
The Nittany Lions shot 54.5 percent from the field while the Illini shot 39.2 percent and 26.3 percent in the second half.
Heading into halftime, the Illini should have held a 36-32 lead. Eighteen combined bench points from Te’Jon Lucas and Kipper Nichols — both Trent Frazier and Black were on the bench with two fouls apiece — kept Illinois in front with seconds remaining in the half.
“I thought we played well in the first half,” Underwood said. “We got the ball where we needed to get it.”
Then, a Garner three-pointer cut the Penn State deficit to one point. A line violation by Illinois’ Mark Alstork on the inbounds pass led to an easy two points on the ensuing inbounds play for Penn State, and a one-point PSU lead at the break.
Penn State started the second frame with a 12-0 run, and Illinois did not score in the second half until the 12:42 mark. Black’s jump hook on the right block officially put the first Illini points of the half on the board.
“We’re a team where (we make) one mistake and we hang our heads and it effects the next play,” Underwood said. “We got to get by that.”
Illinois followed Black’s basket with another four-minute scoring drought, bailed out again by the junior forward hitting a corner three-pointer.
The Nittany Lions went on a 6-0 run during the second drought and stretched the lead out, 58-45 with 7:45 remaining in the game.
Illinois was outscored 37-16 in the second half.
“I wish we could eliminate halftimes,” Underwood said.
Another run was made by Penn State and was highlight by a thunderous alley-oop dunk by Josh Reaves. This got the Illini fans in the State Farm Center to grab their coats and head to exits, signifying the end of a lackluster second half performance out of Illinois.
Junior forward Michael Finke suffered a concussion in Saturday’s practice, which allowed for freshman forward Greg Eboigbodin to make his first-career start. Eboigbodin, however, did not have much of an effect on the game, collecting six rebounds and not even registering a shot attempt.
Coming off of his career-high 32 point outing against Wisconsin, freshman guard Trent Frazier struggled against the Nittany Lions. Frazier scored six points on 2-of-10 shooting from the field.
“They put a lot of size and physicality on Trent,” Underwood said. “They did a very good job of keeping him funneled into (PSU forward Mike) Watkins.”
The Illini (12-14 overall, 2-11 Big Ten) will be going on the road next to try and rebound against Indiana in Bloomington on Wednesday. Underwood will be hoping to not see the same locker room he saw tonight.
“Today I wasn’t very pleased with that locker room,” Underwood said. “I wasn’t pleased with what that locker room became.”
Let us know how you feel after Illinois’ 14th loss of the season in the comments.