Nittany Lions shock Illini

By Lucas Deal

“McBride gets it in to Dee Brown; they triple team him, to McBride in the corner for the win . It’s good! It’s good! It’s good,” Illinois radio play-by-play man Brian Barnhart screamed.

Despite being outplayed over the final 18 minutes and blowing a 16-point lead at home, Illinois had survived.

Or had they?

“They’re going to have to review it,” Barnhart said.

After nearly five minutes of deliberation, head official Gene Crawford finally made his decision.

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No good.

And just like that, Illinois’ 33-game home-winning streak vanished like a puff of smoke on Saturday, instead being replaced by a stunning 66-65 loss to unranked Penn State at the Assembly Hall.

“We should have finished the game in the first half,” a disappointed Bruce Weber said after the game. “Over the past couple years we’ve won a lot of close games, but we didn’t take care of business this time.”

Illinois (20-3, 6-3) opened the game on a 13-0 run and appeared more than ready to roll past the Nittany Lions. With an eight-day break looming large on the other side of the game, the Illini appeared poised to enter the break on a high note.

But then came the second half. After a Shaun Pruitt basket put the Illini up 41-25 on the first possession of the half, the team appeared to relax a little, assuming the Nittany Lions would resign to their fate. But it didn’t work out that way.

Instead, Penn State used an inspired effort on the offensive glass and clutch play from its bench to claw back into the game.

Down 59-48 with 8:26 remaining, the Nittany Lions used an 11-0 run to tie the game with 4:10 to go. Guard Dee Brown answered with a three – his only points of the second half – to put the Illini back on top.

Penn State responded with a three-pointer of its own by reserve guard Mike Walker to re-tie the game. Illinois came right back with another three when McBride buried a bomb from the right wing to reclaim the lead.

Then things really got interesting.

Penn State forward Travis Parker made a short jumper in the lane to cut the lead to one and for the first time in over two years at home, the Illini couldn’t answer.

Brown missed two threes in a nearly minute-long possession before Penn State finally grabbed a rebound.

After a timeout, Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis drew up a play for Walker, who missed an open three. The rebound caromed high into the air before being grabbed by Parker in the lane. The senior took one quick dribble then flipped up another jumper.

Down for the first time all game, Weber called a timeout to set up the final play. With only 3.6 seconds remaining, he needed something good.

The initial inbound pass went to Jamar Smith, who was fouled. Unfortunately for the Illini, the foul was only Penn State’s sixth.

Now only 2.2 seconds remained. McBride was sent to inbound the ball, and quickly slipped it in to Brown. Brown was immediately surrounded by the Nittany Lions and somehow managed to flip the ball over his head to a wide-open McBride. Known for his quick release, McBride swished the open jumper and the crowd erupted.

“When I shoot the ball I don’t look at anything else but the rim,” McBride said. “I thought I got it away.”

DeChellis added, “I said (to our guys) that the most important guy is the in-bounder, but they never listen to me. I had no idea if it was good or not.”

McBride led the Illini with 17 points and James Augustine added 13. Brown and Pruitt were also in double figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Parker, who Weber repeatedly stated “had the game of his life,” finished with a game-high 21. Geary Claxton added 20 for the Nittany Lions (11-9, 3-6).

With a week off until Illinois’ next game on Sunday at Ohio State, Weber hopes his team rebounds from the loss and is able to focus on the remainder of the Big Ten season.

“We were on a major high after the game at Wisconsin, now we’re on a major low,” Weber said. “We have to rebound.”

As for DeChellis and the Nittany Lions, the win could prove to be a turning point in their season.

“We’ve been a very resilient team,” he said. “We’ve played teams well at home, and we’ve lost and we’ve played teams well on the road and we’ve lost. Somewhere along the way, though, the luck turns, and it turned for us tonight.”