Illini attempt back-to -back wins at PSU

Calvin Brock jumps for a rebound during the Indiana game at Assembly Hall on Feb. 7. Illinois lost in double overtime, 83-79. Erica Magda

Calvin Brock jumps for a rebound during the Indiana game at Assembly Hall on Feb. 7. Illinois lost in double overtime, 83-79. Erica Magda

By Jason Grodsky and Jeff LaBelle

The Illinois men’s basketball team won its first conference road game on Tuesday, and now it’s trying to do something it has not done since December – win two games in a row.

The Illini have not won two games in a row since late December, when they handled Missouri and Loyola (Md.) over winter break, and have followed up their last three wins with losses.

On Saturday, Illinois will have a chance to put together its first conference win streak in State College, Pa., against a Nittany Lion team that upset the Illini on their home floor earlier this season.

The 68-64 loss against Penn State at the Assembly Hall in early January sent the Illini into a downward spiral and was considered the low point of the season by players and coaches.

Freshman guard Demetri McCamey collected 18 points in the loss to Penn State, but the Illini committed 26 fouls and allowed the Nittany Lions to amass a 35-14 advantage in free throw attempts.

Illinois was also dominated in the paint the first time the two teams met. Penn State forwards Jamelle Cornley and Geary Claxton combined for 29 points and 23 rebounds and led Penn State to a 49-24 rebounding advantage, complementing their 22-7 advantage on the offensive boards.

But this time around, the two teams seem to be heading in opposite directions.

Illinois is 3-5 in its last eight games, including wins over Minnesota, Northwestern, and Michigan, and is feeling more confident after Tuesday’s win over the Golden Gophers. The eight game stretch is Illinois’ best since the team went 5-3 from late November to late December.

Penn State, on the other hand, has just one win in its last nine games. The Nittany Lions stood at 10-4 after beating Illinois in early January, but have since fallen to 11-12 overall. Contributing to the team’s slide has been the loss of Claxton, who is out for the season after tearing his ACL against Wisconsin on Jan. 15.

Penn State did however register a nine-point win at home two weeks ago against No. 10-ranked Michigan State, and the Nittany Lions are 9-4 at home this season.

Saturday’s contest will also play an important role in determining the seeding for the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, as both the Illini and Nittany Lions enter with three conference wins. With games against Penn State, Iowa and Minnesota, the Illini are poised to move into the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. All three teams sit just ahead of them in the standings.