Tate: Well, that was tough sledding

Tate: Well, that was tough sledding

CHAMPAIGN — If the object of Thursday’s exercise was to attain .500 status (9-9) in the Big Ten, John Groce’s Illini were successful.

But for the 7,667 who braved the snowstorm — half of the purchased seats were empty — they held their collective breath as a 14.5-point favorite reverted to January form and still prevailed, 64-59, against Penn State’s cellar dwellers.

Fifty-two fouls, while 10 short of the Assembly Hall record, made it almost unwatchable ... the Illini garnering win No. 20 by cashing 23 of 36 one-pointers, shooting a mediocre 39.5 percent from the field and being outrebounded 34-25.

It was as though the basket was a moving target and rebounds too slippery to hang onto. No Illini had an offensive board until Sam McLaurin speared one with 14 minutes left to set up a trey for Brandon Paul.

Paul (16) and runningmate D.J. Richardson (18) finished strong, and the Illini never gave up the lead although Penn State cut a 29-20 halftime deficit to 29-27. Most distressing was the UI’s inability to deal with 6-foot-9 Serbian Sasa Borovnjak who, like Wisconsin sub Frank Kaminsky, hurt the Illini inside. Borovnjak had 17 points after entering with a 6.5-point average.

“It was a grind,” Groce said, “and very hard to get in a flow. It wasn’t sexy. It is what it is.”

Slow going
This was Penn State’s 19th straight setback against Big Ten opponents. Pat Chambers’ club is losing traction back on campus, where the buzz mostly emanates from the fierce divide over the treatment of the late Joe Paterno and the NCAA’s ultra-strong sanctions related to the school’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky case.

In that explosive atmosphere, the football program survived with honor for at least one season. The 8-4 record speaks for itself. Football is still the talk of the town while basketball drifts into a nonconsequential slide.

The Nittany Lions’ 12-year conference record is 49-151. That’s 200 basketball games — no small sample — with a winning percentage of 24.5. That includes nine straight Big Ten losses at the dreary Bryce Jordan Center, where upper portions are covered to disguise empty seats.

The impact is what you might expect. Folks are grumbling or, worse yet, they have ceased to care. The announced turnout for a recent Tuesday night game against Purdue was 6,270. By contrast, the Top 10 women’s team (22-3, 12-1) drew 4,539 for Wednesday’s beatdown of Matt Bollant’s Illini.

Pecking order
Without improvement, Chambers faces second-class citizenship next season, even as he welcomes back Tim Frazier for what should be an improved Nittany Lion quintet. Check it out:

— Bill O’Brien’s football team closed the season Nov. 24 with a 24-21 victory against Big Ten champion Wisconsin with 93,505 as listed attendance. For those bemoaning Penn State’s bad fortune, Illinoisans ask a legitimate question as to who faces the most trying football future: Penn State’s sanctioned operation or an Illinois program that sees an assistant coach seeking a safer landing place almost every week?

— Penn State’s crack wrestling team, which shut out a ranked Illini team 37-0 on Feb. 3 at Huff Hall, is drawing home crowds approaching 7,000.

— Terrence Pegula, whose net worth last September was estimated at $3 billion (natural gas), has personally funded an $88 million, 6,000-seat hockey arena, and he also will endow Penn State hockey scholarships. Penn State’s inclusion allows the Big Ten to form a six-team conference next season. They expect to fill those 6,000 seats.

— Oh, in case you’re wondering, Russ Rose’s volleyball team, which won four straight NCAA titles ending in 2010, averaged 3,274 home fans this season and reached the Final Four.

It’s clear, as the losses pile up, that men’s basketball is trailing on the enthusiasm meter in Happy Valley. As for Illinois, don’t judge fan interest on Thursday’s turnout. The pileup of stalled traffic trying to get home through the snow at 5 p.m. discouraged many fans from leaving their TV sets after they reached them.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

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illinifaningeorgia wrote on February 22, 2013 at 8:02 am

Pretty slick, Mr. Tate.  Since there were ZERO highlights in an abominably played game, you decided to become the "Penn State beat writer for a day". 

Penn State must be the only school  where Men's Basketball is not  #2 to Football.  It looks like they're closer to 4 or 5.

Moonpie wrote on February 22, 2013 at 8:02 am

I watched the nailbiter--glad they made it to 20 and 7-7.

But Oracle Tate can't resist even the slightest elbow at fans, as though all of C-U should have braved the blizzard to blindly support the team he built -- I mean, the team he "covers."

And speaking of blizzards -- tough sledding ahead at Michigan

optimator wrote on February 22, 2013 at 11:02 am

ah goody, more cowpie idiocy, er "wisdom"

hpaulh wrote on February 22, 2013 at 9:02 am

It would help if un-welcome critics of the "writer" could read with comprehension.  But alas, their 3rd grade reading proficiency is self-limiting.  The comment was:  "As for Illinois, DON'T JUDGE FAN INTEREST on Thursday’s turnout."  There's no giving the fans an "elbow" located therein, but rather a statement of awareness, appreciation, and understanding.  If not that I live in CA, I would have snow-boarded to the Hall.  But not everybody is as single-minded as I am.  It seems there's just stupidity, bias and narrow-mindedness running amok in the comment section these days.

mankind wrote on February 22, 2013 at 10:02 am

It's nice to see Mr. Tate acknowledge the fact that Illinois has a women's basketball team (paragraph #10, line 3). Too bad his brief musings were limited to the "beatdown" at Penn State instead of one of the many gutsy wins that have brought the women to the brink of an NCAA berth. The way Matt Bollant has led this team out of the wilderness is one of the great Illini sports stories of the year.

DaisyJ wrote on February 22, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Leave Paul on the bench. Can win without him. He takes horrible shots. We can do better with him on the bench. Griffey should also be shut down, and no more 3 balls. Henry is 5 times better ballplayer. Did you see Griffey forgot that the basket was to his left. He has done this time and time again. Thought he was so smart. Never have I ever seen a lay up scored so easy as when Griffey was looking the wrong way. Really, why have him out there.

illinigator wrote on February 22, 2013 at 8:02 pm

Daisy what were responses when Griffey had 3 pretty good games,   Bertrand can look pretty good at times and not so good at times.  So far all the non starters have looked ok and not so ok.  I can't beleive you can pick on just Griffey.  Illinois without Paul are a .500 team at best.  Illinois would have won last nights game by the 14.5 betting odds if they did a better job shoot foul shoths.  I don't think they were very up for this game.  Every school has a let down after playing 5 good games in a row.  Why isn't anyone talking about the stupid fouls that Illinois big men are commiting. Ewbe must have a least a foul a game setting picks.

DaisyJ wrote on February 23, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Griffey can have a good game,could care less. Who they play for him can have a better game without having to do much. Case in point, how did you like his D for an open layup he gave up late in the game. Did his grade school coach forget to tell him to watch the ball. Has his head turned most of the time. How about how he shoots, or should I say throws up the 3 ball. He is an example of a kid that has failed to grow, and that is not a coaches fault.

The let down could have been averted by clearing the bench and letting the starters know that their walking the ball up the floor is not going to be tolerated. We can win without Paul, he is just not very smart.

jnaour wrote on February 22, 2013 at 9:02 pm


Is that what your HS coach taught.  We need a lot more people here like you who KNOW EXACTLY what Groce should do and then base it on what they learned in HS.  Uh, OK

DaisyJ wrote on February 23, 2013 at 12:02 pm

/Dinasour,,,Groce can still learn, or are you also through learning. He can even learn to bench Paul and win.

JDG613 wrote on February 23, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Daisy - Benching Paul is not the answer.  And Henry is certainly not the answer.  MH may have unbelievable athletic ability, but his decision-making is not among the top 6 or 7 on the team.  IF you know basketball (as you claim), then you also know that you don't just play the 5 most athletic guys on the team....you play the 5 that work best together, best execute what the coach (not the fans, and definitely not the amateur posters on these pages) wants, and understands the game and the opponent.  Henry definitely brings some lift when he comes in to the game, but only in short spurts, because he brings energy and athleticism, but strategically, Paul is still one of the best we can put on the floor.

And you might get just a little more credibility in your posts if you didn't adopt the Moonpie credo and attack the writer, instead of the material.  Just makes you appear juvenile, at best.

Then again....continue what you're doing.  It seems appropriate.

DaisyJ wrote on February 23, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Well, coach Groce has found the answer in putting BP on the bench. Or would you like him to never come out and shoot even more., maybe see some more air balls, or some more wild drives , and then miss some ft's. Sitting him and Griffey have helped not hurt.

How would you know if Henry is not the answer, When he gets min. he does ok. His shot trajectory and release are the best on the team.

I am ready for some teams to use a forward as a forward and Henry is a forward, not a center,not a guard, not a 3 ,4, or 5, or 2 or whatever but a forward. Todays game as you know has cause havoc with scoring with the almighty worship of a bad three ball shot.

Tell me, and I like Groce, but he has fallen into todays world of center ball picks, I like him but I would rather we use the first 12 seconds of a half court offenes having our center go down and put his man on his hip for position. If you ask me, a 5 foot  guy can guard him out there, he should be under the basket. B

If you do not want to be attacked, then say something that makes some sense. You remind me of the liberal sensitivity minority group that cannot say the word Indian, redskin, black, or what ever.


Thanks for not attacking me.