Illinois loses third straight home game

Illinois guard Calvin Brock (25) and forward Rodney Alexander (23) surround Penn State forward David Jackson (15) for a rebound during the first half of a basketball game Sunday, Jan. 6, 2008, in Champaign, Ill. Darrell Hoemann, The Associated Press

AP

Illinois guard Calvin Brock (25) and forward Rodney Alexander (23) surround Penn State forward David Jackson (15) for a rebound during the first half of a basketball game Sunday, Jan. 6, 2008, in Champaign, Ill. Darrell Hoemann, The Associated Press

By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois basketball team has done something it hasn’t done in nearly nine years: lose three consecutive home games.

Illinois fell victim to Penn State 68-64 Sunday afternoon at Assembly Hall, marking its fourth home loss in its last five home games. It’s the longest home losing streak since the Illini lost four straight during the 1998-99 season and the second straight season the Illini have dropped their first two Big Ten games.

Freshman guard Demetri McCamey led the Illini with a career high 18 points, and the Illini (8-7,0-2 Big Ten) held the Nittany Lions (10-4, 2-0) to 36.4 percent shooting from the field, but Illinois was dominated on the boards, getting out-rebounded by Penn State 49-24.

It was only the fourth time all season the Illini had been beaten on the boards. Penn State came into the game as the Big Ten’s top offensive rebounding team, averaging just over 15 per game. Against the Illini the Nittany Lions collected 22 offensive rebounds, leading to 20 second chance points.

“(Rebounding) is one thing we’ve been good at this season, but we weren’t (Sunday),” head coach Bruce Weber said. “We gave them too many opportunities and when you do that they will find a way to win.”

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    Illinois trailed 64-58 late in the game, but McCamey brought the Illini back with two three-pointers to pull the Illini within 65-64 with 10 seconds left. After a free throw by Penn State, McCamey drove to the hoop for a lay up but couldn’t find the bottom of the net.

    The freshman guard finished the game 7-of-12 shooting and 4-of-6 from three-point range while adding five assists.

    “Demetri played big for us,” Weber said. “We’re getting the ball in his hands and he’s making plays and he’s made strides.”

    Penn State extended its winning streak to seven games, the school’s longest since 2000-01, and won its second straight game at Assembly Hall after snapping the Illini’s school-record 33-game winning streak at home on Feb. 4, 2006 with a 66-65 victory.

    Illinois desperately needed a win at home to raise the team’s morale after losing two straight home games for the first time since the 1998-99 season. Since Weber took over as coach the Illini have lost consecutive games just four times in his four years.

    “We have to stay together,” freshman forward Mike Davis said. “We can either split apart as a team or keep battling and stay together and we all want to keep fighting.”

    The Illini came out inspired, jumping out to an early 11-6 lead on the back of Calvin Brock, who scored seven of his season high 15 points in the first five minutes of the game.

    Illinois would extend its lead to 20-11 midway through the first half, but the Nittany Lions clawed back to tie the game 31-31 at halftime and take control in the second half on junior forward Jamelle Cornley’s 18-point, 12-rebound performance.

    Penn State slowed Illinois’ offense down by switching to a zone defense, which the Illini struggled against in their last two games. Illinois shot just 6-of-22 from three-point distance.

    “Our three-point efficiency is disastrous,” Weber said. “We just can’t get any three’s to go down. We have to find somebody who can step up and make some shots.”