Illinois basketball overwhelmed by Penn State in second half


Ethan Scholl

Head Coach Brad Underwood argues with the ref during Illinois’ 74-52 loss to Penn State on Sunday, February 11.

By Will Gerard, Staff writer

Illinois showed up for much of the first half against Penn State at State Farm Center on Sunday, but it was unable to overcome a sluggish start following halftime as the home team scored just 16 points in the half.

Penn State (18-9, 8-6 Big Ten) blew out Illinois (12-14, 2-11 Big Ten) 74-52.

 The Illini have won just two of their past nine Big Ten games.

Head coach Brad Underwood was disappointed with his team’s effort and a perceived lack of passion on display from his players.

“Today, I wasn’t very pleased with that locker room,” Underwood said.

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Five Nittany Lions scored in double-digits. Senior guard Shep Garner scored a team-high 16 points (5-14 FG) and sophomore guard Tony Carr – the team’s leading scorer at 19.3 points per game before the contest – recorded a team-high six assists, and he added 15 points (6-13 FG) for the Nittany Lions.

Forward Leron Black scored a game-high 18 points (6-10 FG). He shot 2-3 from three and 4-4 on free throw attempts; Black snagged six rebounds as well in 29 minutes of play.

Illinois ever so slightly edged out Penn State in rebounds 32-28, though Lions scored 20 more points in the paint (34-14).

Both teams struggled mightily from deep. Penn State shot 29-percent from three, and Illinois shot slightly worse at 26-percent.

Penn State led by one point at halftime after a meltdown from Illinois.

“We’re a team right now that (makes) one mistake, and we hang our heads,” Underwood said. “It affects the next play.”

Senior guard Shep Garner nailed a 3-pointer, and then on the ensuing inbound pass, senior guard Mark Alstork committed a violation.

The Nittany Lions cashed in with a layup from sophomore guard Tony Carr 2.6 seconds before the halftime buzzer to cap off a 9-2 run over the final 2:23 minutes.

Both teams got off to a slow start in the second half, however, Illinois went 7:18 minutes without scoring as Penn State put together a 12-0 run to take a 13-point lead.

“We got some stops, and then we were able to get some easy ones once we got out on the break,” head coach Patrick Chambers said.

Illinois also went scoreless over a 4:13 minute stretch midway through the first half, though it responded with a 7-0 run over a 2:25 minute-span, starting at the 5:20 minute mark in the first half.

Penn State shot 55-percent from the field on 20 assists, whereas Illinois shot 39-percent on 10 assists.

Black said that much of the scoring woes were due to the Illini being unable to get into their spread offensive set early in each possession.

Following a career-high scoring performance, freshman guard Trent Frazier got off to a slow start on the offensive end (1-4 FG), though he kept up the pressure for the Illini with three steals, and he brought down four rebounds. Frazier scored just six points (2-11 FG), well short of his average of 12.5 points per game prior to the contest.

“They put a lot of size and physicality on Trent,” Underwood said.

Nichols provided some energy off the bench early. He played limited minutes in the last home game against Wisconsin, however, he scored five quick points upon entering the game.

His first basket came on a backdoor alley-oop, which was assisted by junior guard Aaron Jordan.

Nichols finished with 12 points and six rebounds in 25 minutes.

Lucas was the next-highest scorer for the home team with 10 points (5-6 FG), yet he scored eight of his points in the first half.

Nichols and Lucas were the only other player to score in double-digits.

The Illinois bench outscored Penn State 24-12.

Greg Eboigbodin got his first career start in place of junior forward Michael Finke, who suffered a concussion in practice Saturday.

“Another big down there could have helped with rebounding,” Black said. “It was a big loss being without him.”

He primarily operated out of the high post on the offensive, and he added much-needed size to the starting frontcourt with six rebounds, which tied Black and Nichols for a team-high.

Jordan also got the nod for his third start of the season.

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