The Daily Illini

Illinois falls to Penn State despite Hill's career-high

By Eli Schwadron

Tweet: #Illini hoops falls to Penn State on Sunday despite Malcolm Hill’s career-high 39 points.

Malcolm Hill hit Penn State’s Isaiah Washington with a crossover in the closing seconds of regulation Sunday, sending the 6-foot-3 defender stumbling backwards. 

The left-to-right dribble created a few feet of space, and Hill had a clean look at a jumper from the left wing. However, instead of pulling up to potentially cap off one of the best individual games of his career, the junior swingman tried to deliver a pass to Maverick Morgan under the basket.

The ball never found its intended target.

Penn State and Illinois went on to play two overtimes in front of a recorded attendance of 9,104 in State College, Pennsylvania, with the Nittany Lions grabbing the victory, 86-79. With the win, Penn State (16-15, 7-11 Big Ten) gets a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time in program history. 

Meanwhile, Illinois (13-18, 5-13 Big Ten) gets the 12 seed with a loss in its final regular season game. Hill put forth a Herculean effort, shooting 12-of-21 for a career-high 39 points, hitting 14-of-16 free throws and grabbing 13 rebounds in 44 minutes of work.

Still, it wasn’t enough. 

Shep Garner (22 points, six assists), Brandon Taylor (21 points, 11 rebounds) and Josh Reaves (13 points, seven rebounds, three blocks, two steals) led the way for the Nittany Lions, who secured a seventh Big Ten win — the most conference wins ever under head coach Pat Chambers.

Taylor rattled off seven straight points midway through the second half, and Penn State led by 10 with 9:10 remaining. Jumpers from Hill and three-balls from Kendrick Nunn and Khalid Lewis brought the Illini back. Neither team buckled down defensively in crunch time and both traded baskets down the stretch.

Illinois took its first lead of the second half on a Lewis runner off the glass with 56 seconds left. Garner responded with a high-arcing finger roll layup with 14 ticks remaining to tie it at 67.

The Nittany Lions controlled the backboard action in the two extra periods, taking full advantage of second chance opportunities, including a Jordan Dickerson rebound and kick-out to Peyton Banks for a three-pointer. The Illini couldn’t match the Lions’ firepower in the final five minutes.

There weren’t many bright spots for the visiting team apart from Hill’s standout performance. Khalid Lewis shot 3-of-4 from the field for a career-high 10 points, but no other Illini reached double-digit scoring. 

The Illini will take on the 13-seed Minnesota on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in Indianapolis. John Groce’s squad has beaten the Golden Gophers twice this season, including a 84-71 win on Feb. 28, in which Hill, Kendrick Nunn and Jalen Coleman-Lands combined for 65 points. 

The Gophers are without three key players due to suspension and another one due to injury. Last year, Illinois fell in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament to Michigan.

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