Illini celebrate senior night but fail to pick up win

Illinois+forward+Alex+Wittinger+dribbles+to+the+basket+during+the+game+against+Fort+Wayne+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Friday%2C+Nov.+10.+The+Illini+won+64-50.
Back to Article
Back to Article

Illini celebrate senior night but fail to pick up win

Illinois forward Alex Wittinger dribbles to the basket during the game against Fort Wayne at State Farm Center on Friday, Nov. 10. The Illini won 64-50.

Illinois forward Alex Wittinger dribbles to the basket during the game against Fort Wayne at State Farm Center on Friday, Nov. 10. The Illini won 64-50.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois forward Alex Wittinger dribbles to the basket during the game against Fort Wayne at State Farm Center on Friday, Nov. 10. The Illini won 64-50.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois forward Alex Wittinger dribbles to the basket during the game against Fort Wayne at State Farm Center on Friday, Nov. 10. The Illini won 64-50.

By Gabby Hajduk, Staff writer

Sunday afternoon saw an emotional battle for Illinois as they sought revenge on Penn State in light of the team’s senior night.
The Illini hoped for a final home win for seniors Alex Wittinger and Jaelyne Kirkpatrick as well as graduate transfer Sarah Shewan, but ultimately fell 76-65. After Shewan and Wittinger checked out for the final time, they were embraced by the team and met with cheers from the crowd.
“I think you can feel the love and how much passion there is for this team,” said head coach Nancy Fahey. “When you see this much caring and the hurt, it is a sign of how tight this team is and the love they have for each other and the desire there is to put wins on the board.”
Despite the Illini’s comeback efforts in the fourth quarter fueled by junior Brandi Beasley’s six straight points, the Nittany Lions’ strong shooting night kept them on top.
Led by sophomore Kamari McDaniel’s 20-point performance on 67 percent shooting, Penn State shot 53 percent from the field while also knocking down 10 three-pointers by the end of the night.
Senior Alex Wittinger led the Illini with 12 points and eight rebounds. The forward also recorded one block, making her two blocks away from tying the all-time Illinois record.
Beasley and freshman Arieal Scott each contributed 10 points while redshirt junior Cierra Rice and junior Ali Andrews each added eight.
“Sometimes you have to find ways to step in and do the little things,” said Rice. “My teammates put me in good positions to be able to score, so having them out there constantly cheering me on and helping me out is really all there is to it.”
Both teams started the contest on the same foot, trading baskets throughout the first few minutes. However, the Illini began to struggle in transition, failing to score for over two minutes.
After Andrews ended the drought with a jumper, the final minutes of the quarter were dominated by Penn State’s back-court offense. The Nittany Lions hit four three-pointers within two minutes to create a 12-point lead.
To give the Illini some momentum heading into the second quarter, Beasley knocked down a jumper near the buzzer, but Illinois still trailed 26-16.
The Illini continued to struggle to score in transition early in the second quarter, but the defense picked up the slack, forcing a two-minute scoring drought for the Nittany Lions.
Scott and freshman Mackenzie Blazek brought some intensity midway through the quarter with back-to-back layups to cut into Penn State’s lead. However, four turnovers near the end of the quarter prevented the Illini from going on a run, still trailing 39-31 at halftime.
Penn State’s three-point shooting fueled its offense in the first half, shooting 50 percent from behind the arc led by McDaniel and junior Jaida Travascio-Green.
“The thing about Penn State is they are a team that puts the ball on the floor a lot, but then all of a sudden (McDaniel) was shooting much better then, statistically, so then we had to go out,” said Fahey.
Wittinger fueled the offense early with two straight jumpers before picking up three straight fouls early in the quarter.
The offense remained tough using an and-1 by Rice and a three-pointer from Scott to cut their deficit down to four midway through the quarter.
Illinois’ defense soon let up, giving Penn State nine unanswered points and back-to-back three-pointers to create a 13-point lead heading into the final quarter.
After an early 6-0 run by Penn State, Illinois came alive with a 12-2 run. Beasley hit three jumpers in a row, then freshman J-Naya Ephraim and Andrews contributed three-point plays.
While Illinois got within seven of Penn State late in the quarter, the Nittany Lions held on, knocking down four straight free throws to seal the win.
Illinois will travel to Maryland on Saturday afternoon for their final game of the regular season.