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‘They beat us three times’: Illinois can’t solve Penn State in Big Ten Tournament loss

The Illini will now wait to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.

Penn State v Illinois Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

CHICAGO — They usually say third time’s the charm.

That wasn’t the case for the Illini on Thursday night.

Penn State defeated Illinois two times in the regular season, and at the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago, they aimed to make it three. The atmosphere at the United Center provided Illinois with a “home” crowd, but after 36 minutes of back-and-forth punches between the two teams, Penn State held a five-point lead.

Enter Andrew Funk. His four threes led the Nittany Lions to the lead, but he wasn’t done yet. With the shot clock winding down, the fifth-year senior pulled up from deep. Bottoms.

And he didn’t stop there. His sixth three of the night pushed the lead to 12, sinking the dagger into the hearts of the Illini faithful.

Illinois found a way to contain star Jalen Pickett (61 points in the two previous matchups), but in the end, it was Funk and Seth Lundy leading the Nittany Lions to the 79-76 win.

“They beat us three times,” said head coach Brad Underwood, “so we obviously haven’t figured out what the sauce is to beat them.”

Penn State (20-12, 10-10 Big Ten) used a very similar strategy that won it the matchup at State Farm Center in December: the three ball.

Funk, who had 20 points in that Dec. 10 matchup, had another 20 on Thursday. He went 6-for-9 from beyond the arc to lead PSU in scoring.

“We’ve never guarded Funk,” Underwood said. “I don’t know what he’s had against us but we haven’t guarded him.”

The Nittany Lions couldn’t get much else going from three, as they shot 2-for-12 outside of the sharpshooting Funk. When the perimeter shooting was lacking, their physicality and senior leadership made up for it.

Lundy recorded his third double-double of the season, scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 boards. Camren Wynter — 14+ points in five of his previous six games — extended his hot streak, adding 18 points on a highly efficient 7-9 shooting.

“They’re really old, they’re the oldest team in Power Five, and they got a really good player who’s a matchup problem,” Underwood said. “They’re a tough matchup for us.”

Penn State’s veteran leadership stepped up in a major way, making it even harder for Illinois to earn its first Big Ten Tournament win in two years without a big contribution from Matthew Mayer. After shooting a season worst 1-for-10 from three against Purdue, Mayer failed to make one in the loss, scoring only seven points.

“[Mayer] was very, very good early, and there’s no doubt we need him to be excellent as we move forward,” Underwood said. “We need him to be a very big part of this.”

Terrence Shannon Jr. and Coleman Hawkins led the way in scoring for Illinois (20-12, 11-9 Big Ten) with 19 and 17, respectively. Dain Dainja went 4-of-10 from the field, and recorded double-digit points for the first time since the Minnesota matchup Feb. 20.

“We had a little different approach, trying to get the ball into Dain,” Underwood said. “Dain, Coleman I thought were electric.”

There is still one main looming question for this team heading into the NCAA Tournament: Can this team — with players who have been there before — show the nation its potential with a level of consistency fit for a deep tournament run? Underwood believes so.

“I’m excited,” he said. “This team can go as long and as far as they want to be, we’ve proven that.”


DAINJA TECH: Illinois jumped out of the gates in the second half on fire, with a Dainja and-one layup giving the Illini a five-point lead — their biggest of the game. In the passion of the moment, the Illinois big man’s celebration caused him to (potentially) inadvertently bang heads with Penn State’s Myles Dread in the process.

“I had scored and then I just celebrated,” Dainja said. “I didn’t see him, I had my eyes closed. I didn’t know he was right in front of me.”

Dainja was called for a tech, giving the Nittany Lions two free throws and the momentum back. They would reclaim the lead less than two minutes later.

THREE-POINT WOES: It looked like this was going to go Illinois’ way in the first half, as it was pretty even (Illinois 21.4%, Penn State 25%). The second half was a completely different story. Penn State ended up shooting 38.1% while Illinois only shot 28.6%.


Halftime entertainment:

You don't see this everyday.


  • This was the fourth all-time neutral court game between these two teams. The series is now tied 2-2 in that category.
  • Illinois drops to 32-22 all time against Penn State.



Illinois heads back down I-57 to Champaign.

They’ll wait to hear their name called during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on Sunday night.