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Illinois can’t capitalize against Penn State

The Fighting Illini have lost five in a row to the Nittany Lions.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

And just like that, a dud to the team in last place in the Big Ten.

Illinois couldn’t muster more home momentum in a 83-76 loss to Penn State on Saturday afternoon. The Illini entered the game winners of four of their past five after their four-game winning streak was snapped at Wisconsin on Monday.

The game opened up at a quick pace with both teams trading baskets early without much defense to stop them, but Penn State’s Lamar Stevens was a huge problem that Illinois wasn’t able to solve. He already had 9 points after 8 minutes of play and he finished the first half with 15 points.

The back-and-forth, high-scoring play continued in the first half until a 15-3 run by Penn State opened up a 34-22 lead with just under six minutes to play. The Penn State defense started to make things tough in half-court sets for the Illini offense. The Illini defense on the other hand.....eh, not so much. Penn State was able to get whatever it wanted with ease.

The Illini’s only spark on offense in the latter stages of the second half was Andres Feliz, who put up 10 points in 13 minutes while playing his junkyard dog style. Illinois shot only 35% in the first half compared to 50% for Penn State, who also shot 8-of-10 from the line compared to 7-of-14 for Illinois.

The Illini were very lucky to be only down 7 after an Aaron Jordan three at the end of the half to make it 39-32.

The second half didn’t start any better for the orange and blue. Penn State hit three of its first four shots, while the Illini made only 1-of-4 with a shot clock violation that was followed immediately by a Penn State three to open up a 12-point lead for the Nittany Lions.

Illinois responded with a 10-4 run ended by an Ayo Dosunmu three-pointer cutting the lead to 50-44 and forcing Pat Chambers to call a timeout.

An 11-2 run from Penn State followed, all which culminated in a Brad Underwood technical foul, and some of the worst Big Ten officiating you’ll ever see.

The basket was eventually taken away and John Harrar was called for a flagrant one.

The crowd got into the game after this, and the energy and Ayo finally showing up put Illinois on a 10-0 run, cutting the lead to five, but yet again, as was the story in the second half, this run wasn’t enough. Penn State had an response anytime Illinois seemed close to grabbing control of the game.

Penn State and Illinois traded baskets for the last 7:33 seconds of the game and — despite opportunities — Illinois was never able to fully catch up to the Nittany Lions, who controlled the game with some tough inside play and a great rebounding game.

Penn State hit its free throws to ice it late and won its fifth-straight game over the Illini.

Mike Watkins had a hell of a game with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 5 blocks and was the key player in the second half for Penn State in clinching the win.

TWEET OF THE GAME

WHO’S NEXT

The Illini travel to West Lafayette on Wednesday to take on the No. 15 Purdue Boilermakers.

The Big Ten’s leading scorer, Carsen Edwards, and the Boilermakers (19-7, 12-3) are winners of 10 of their last 11 games.

Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. CT.

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