The Penn State Nittany Lions and Illinois Fighting Illini are no strangers to playing close games. Heading into today, nine of the previous 13 meetings between the two schools had been decided by five points or less. This matchup was no different. In a back-and-forth game, Illinois pulled off the 60-55 victory.
Penn State really struggled down the stretch. After leading by three with just over nine minutes remaining, the Nittany Lions failed to score for nearly eight minutes late in the game.
Penn State guard D.J. Newbill came out with a mission in this one. After getting involved in a skirmish which led to his ejection the last time these two teams met, he made sure to stay in the game and make a huge impact. Newbill led the Nittany Lions with 19 points. He also added six rebounds.
Newbill’s partner in the backcourt, Tim Frazier, scored 11 points.
The Nittany Lions took advantage of the home crowd and started hot, scoring the first seven points of the game. However, the Illini settled down and went on a run, eventually going up by as many as nine points before allowing Penn State to tie it up going into the break.
After halftime, the game went back and forth and stayed close, as neither team got ahead by more than four points until the end.
The Penn State defense did a much better job in this one controlling Illinois’ best player, guard Rayvonte Rice. He dominated the Nittany Lions for 15 points seven rebounds in the previous meeting, but managed just nine points in this game. Illinois got a big game from two freshman.
Kendrick Nunn came through in a big way for the Illini, putting up a career-high 19 points and hitting a huge three-point in the final minute of the game to put the Illini up by four. Fellow freshman Malcolm Hill added 11 points.
Coming into the game, the frontcourt of Penn State was struggling, managing just 12 total points in the team’s last game, a loss at Michigan State on Thursday. Today, the players in the paint did a much better job providing support to the talented backcourt of Newbill and Tim Frazier. Forwards Brandon Taylor and Donovon Jack both added nine points. Ross Travis scored just two points, but grabbed eight boards.
However, the effort came up short and the Nittany Lions lost a close conference game for the fourth time this season.
Illinois snapped an eight-game losing streak. For the Nittany Lions, this was their second-straight loss after reeling off three conference wins in a row.
The Nittany Lions will look to rebound when they take the court next on Wednesday night at Indiana.
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