Frazier layup seals victory



By Jason Grodsky

INDIANAPOLIS – Brian Randle was on a mission to prevent his Illinois career from reaching an end Thursday, but the senior was forced to watch from the bench in the final minutes with the outcome of his senior season on the shoulders of his teammates.

His teammates picked him up.

Trailing by one with seven seconds remaining in the season, junior guard Chester Frazier found himself open underneath the basket, and junior Trent Meacham found a way to get him the ball.

Frazier did the rest, laying the ball off the backboard and into the net with three seconds left to give Illinois a 64-63 win over Penn State in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.


photo DI multimedia


Illini win first game Big 10 Tourney

Click to view a slideshow.

“We’ve been in too many close positions where we haven’t finished, but (Thursday) everybody believed,” Randle said. “Anybody who knows this team knows we will do anything for one another, and my teammates picked me up.”

Randle scored a team-high 17 points, but fouled out with about three minutes remaining. He watched Penn State roar back and take a 62-61 lead before Frazier gave the Illini the edge in the final moments to prevent another victory from slipping through the Illini’s fingers.

“We’ve had an unbelievable run of close games and not finding ways to win, and it seemed like it was going to be the story of our season again,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “I guess the movie ended differently this time.”

Playing as the 10th seed and in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament for just the third time in the tournament’s 11-year history, Illinois (14-18) took advantage of Penn State’s inexperience, bouncing the Nittany Lions (15-16) from the tournament for the second straight season.

Including Randle, four Illini scored in double figures, while Illinois shot 42 percent and sank nine three-pointers to upset the seventh-seeded Nittany Lions.

Illini guards Meacham and Demetri McCamey were deadly from behind the arc, combining for seven three-pointers, while Randle and fellow senior forward Shaun Pruitt were a dominating force inside.

Pruitt finished the game with a double-double, scoring 10 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.

“This is a similar situation to last year,” Frazier said.

“It feels good to play another game especially for Brian, Shaun and Chris (Hicks). We’re still fighting to see if we can win three more and continue playing.”

After blowing early leads in two regular-season losses to Penn State, the Illini built leads of 11 points and 10 points in the first and second halves, respectfully, but watched Penn State come back to take the lead with two minutes left.

But without senior Geary Claxton and junior Jamelle Cornley at their disposal, both of whom underwent season-ending knee surgeries, Penn State couldn’t hold on.

“We’ve had three great games with Illinois,” Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis said. “They’ve all been a one-possession game. It’s always come down to a last possession. Today they made the play when we didn’t.”

Penn State started four freshmen, and its young guards had difficulty keeping up with the Illini behind the arc, allowing Meacham and McCamey to take advantage of open looks.

However, the Nittany Lions’ three-point shooting would keep them in the game, as they went into halftime only down by two points.

Penn State drained five three-pointers in the first half, two from Battle, who led the Nittany Lions, scoring 12 of his team-high 17 points in the first half alone.

The Illini will meet Weber’s former assistant Matt Painter and his No. 2-seeded Purdue squad in the second round Friday at 5:30 p.m.

“Right now there is no tomorrow for us,” Meacham said.

“We just have to come out and play hard and have fun and take that momentum and try to make a run.”