STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Illinois coach Matt Bollant is determined not to let a blowout loss to No. 7 Penn State affect the rest of the season.
That’s good, because there were few highlights for the Illini after getting routed 95-62 on Wednesday night in Happy Valley. Adrienne GodBold had 17 points for foul-plagued Illinois (15-10, 8-5), which fell behind 21 by halftime after the Nittany Lions shot 58 percent from the field in the first half.
“Have resiliency, don’t let one game ... move into two,” Bollant said when asked what the team would take away from the loss. Keep believing and keep fighting. Don’t let this game affect Saturday’s game against Indiana.”
Illinois, which was off to its best start in conference play since 1999-00, stumbled in a chance for a season-defining win on the road in a game that could have helped its NCAA tournament implications.
The Illini fell into a tie for fourth place in the Big Ten with Purdue and Michigan State.
The Illini haven’t won in Happy Valley since 1998. That season produced a Sweet 16 trip for Illinois, which would be happy simply making the NCAA tournament this time around.
“I just want to give Penn State a lot of credit,” Bollant said. “Wow, were they good tonight. They came out and punched us in the mouth, and we really didn’t respond. They kept punching us and they played great throughout. You saw flashes on tape of what they can do, and today it felt like they put it all together and played a complete game.”
The Illini suffered their worst loss of Bollant’s tenure, and the 95 points the No. 7 Nittany Lions (22-3, 12-1) scored were the most Illinois has given up since a 96-84 loss at Ohio State last year. The 33-point loss is the worst for an Illinois squad since it lost 76-41 at — you guessed it — Penn State on Jan. 13, 2005.
Penn State, which led 54-33 at halftime, didn’t let up down the stretch and led by as much as 27 early in the second half. Even 19 second-half turnovers couldn’t derail Penn State after shooting 61 percent for the night, the first time the team eclipsed that mark since 1996.
Bollant managed to get his team settled in the second half, but the Illini could get no closer than 19 with 7:42 left to play.
The first half doomed Illinois’ chances.
So did foul trouble.
Karisma Penn, Illinois’ leading scorer, picked up her third foul with 12 minutes, 7 seconds left in the first half, and while she still finished with 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting, the senior forward fouled out with 5:39 left. Sophomore Ivory Crawford added 10 points before she fouled out with 9:17 remaining in the second half.
By the time Penn made her way to the bench, Illinois trailed 85-60. The Illini struggled from the field, connecting on only 33 percent of their shots (22 of 66).
“I think some of the foul trouble made us lose our aggressiveness (in the first half),” Bollant said. “And I think we were a little shocked at how good they were. Instead of stepping up and fighting against it, we pulled back a little bit. But give (Penn State) credit for that.”