No. 17 Illinois men’s basketball loses out 74-59 against Penn State in Big Ten home opener

Guard%2FForward+Matthew+Mayer+receives+a+pass+from+his+team+during+a+game+against+Syracuse+on+Nov.+29.+%0AThe+Illini+suffered+a+defeat+today+from+Penn+State+resulting+in+a+score+of+59-74.

Sidney Malone

Guard/Forward Matthew Mayer receives a pass from his team during a game against Syracuse on Nov. 29. The Illini suffered a defeat today from Penn State resulting in a score of 59-74.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

No. 17 Illinois men’s basketball returned home on Saturday after pulling off a remarkable upset over No. 2 Texas at Madison Square Garden in its previous outing. However, Illinois couldn’t continue the momentum and lost out 74-59 to Penn State in the team’s Big Ten home opener in Champaign.

“Inexcusable,” said head coach Brad Underwood following the loss. “I’ve known we were going to have nights like this, with an extremely young team. I think we’re the second-youngest team in the power five. I can live with all of that, except for the complete lack of leadership and the complete lack of effort that was given today. Period. From the very first play that they scored to the two practices before this game. Completely unacceptable.”

Underwood sent out what has become his regular starting five of senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr., freshman guard Skyy Clark, sophomore guard RJ Melendez, fifth-year forward Matthew Mayer and junior forward Coleman Hawkins.

The Illini and the Nittany Lions started off with a ferocious back-and-forth shootout. The ball was flying down the court in the first four minutes with strong scoring from both teams. Mayer picked up where he left off on Tuesday against Texas and opened the game with eight quick points on 3-3 shooting, two makes being from beyond the arc.

The fast-paced scoring began to slow down after the first timeout as both teams fought for the lead. Illinois managed to hold the narrow lead until Penn State’s Myles Turner hit a three to give the visitors a 26-24 advantage with 7:47 left in the first period.

A two-handed dunk by Clark tied the score at 30-30 before the Nittany Lions’ Seth Lundy scored back-to-back buckets to increase the visitor’s lead to four. A big block by Shannon stopped Penn State from forming a run, and the senior guard responded with a finish from inside the paint on the next possession.

However, the momentum only ended up being temporary, as the Illini fell into a nine-point deficit shortly after. By the end of the first half, Illinois trailed Penn State 47-38 with Mayer leading the way with 14 points on 4-7 shooting. Defensive struggles plagued the Illini down the stretch, as Penn State was allowed 6-9 shooting from beyond the arc.

The Nittany Lions came out of the break and quickly added five points to its advantage. Clark opened the second half scoring for the Illini with a three before Hawkins got all of State Farm Center on its feet with a monster dunk. Penn State’s accurate finishing came to a halt, with Illinois holding the visitors to a nearly three minute scoring drought.

The Illini began to claw their way back, building an 8-0 run in the process as Clark continued to hit from beyond the arc. The Nittany Lions continued to struggle offensively as the Illini amped up their defensive prowess after a lackluster first period.

With 12:11 remaining, Penn State started to hit from three once again and enjoyed a 9-0 run off of three consecutive makes from beyond the arc. On the other end of the floor, Illinois couldn’t get anything to fall and the visitors went on a 14-0 run.

Both teams suffered a combined six-minute scoring drought full of blanks and fouls. Freshman guard Ty Rodgers ended the drought with a dunk off a crucial steal by freshman guard Sencire Harris. A turnover by Andrew Funk saw Hawkins slam home a second two-handed dunk.

Penn State’s accuracy from three-point range was elite throughout both periods of play. The visitors shot 12-24 from beyond the arc, a statistic that continued to sink the Illini further in spite of a few exciting runs. Penn State took the game by a 74-59 score.

Illinois is now 7-3 overall, 0-2 in the Big Ten.

“I’m just telling you, our approach to this game right now is immature,” Underwood said, “And it lacks complete, 100% leadership. If I gotta go back to leading again, this team’s in trouble. Somebody on this team’s gotta step up.”

 

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