UI 64, Penn State 59: 'They grinded'

UI 64, Penn State 59: 'They grinded'

CHAMPAIGN — It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was downright ugly. But at this point, Illinois will take any win, aesthetically pleasing or otherwise.

In the best conference in America, you don’t apologize for winning games, even if it is against a team threatening to be the first Big Ten team to go winless in the league for the first time in 13 years.

“Our guys found a way, and they grinded. Sometimes in February, they don’t always look sexy and pretty,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “We found a way and made some plays, and I was proud of the guys for that.”

The crowd was sparse, and justifiably so. A winter storm meant only 7,667 made their way inside the Assembly Hall on Thursday to witness the eyesore.

Officials Ed Hightower, Terry Oglesby and Brian Dorsey called 52 fouls in the game.

“It was a foul every play. There’s no flow to the game,” said Penn State coach Patrick Chambers, whose team was whistled for 31 infractions. “(Illinois) shot 36 free throws, and I understand at the end we’re fouling, but that’s too many fouls. This is probably the fifth game where the opponent has shot over 30 free throws. We’re not that bad defensively.”

And with all the fouls called, neither team took advantage, combining to shoot 61.5 percent from the free throw line.

In the grand scheme of things, none of that really matters to Illinois (20-8, 7-7 Big Ten). The win is all that matters, and Groce’s club has been racking those up lately. The five-game win streak is the longest in Big Ten play in three years.

The key for the turnaround has been the team’s defense, and it was strong again Thursday, holding the Nittany Lions (8-18, 0-14) to two points fewer than their season average and forcing 16 turnovers.

Brandon Paul (16 points) eclipsed the 1,500-point mark for his career against Penn State, but it’s on the other end of the floor where Groce points to the senior’s growth.

“I thought Brandon Paul, two back-to-back games, was dynamite defensively with his effort and energy and the plays he made,” Groce said.

Paul was criticized back when Illinois was 2-7 in conference play for his performance on that end of the floor, but he’s elevated his play and that’s coincided with Illinois’ recent surge.

“I just wanted to be active. A lot of people, they look at the end of games to see how many points people scored,” Paul said. “It’s not all about points, it’s the little things. We’ve been playing well lately because our defense has been a lot better the last few weeks. I just wanted to do something to help my team other than putting the ball in the basket.”

D.J. Richardson (18 points) reached double figures for the ninth straight game for the Illini, who got at least six points from four other players.

“Really proud of our guys for grinding it; they just kind of grinded. I thought that each guy that played made a play or two that contributed to the win,” Groce said.

Penn State got 20 points from Jermaine Marshall and 17 from Sasa Borovnjak.

“Their enthusiasm is amazing,” Groce said of Penn State. “Their energy level, they just play so hard, they’re physical, they’re tough, and I admire all that in the midst of some adversity. I think that shows a lot about their character.”

What happened
Because of a winter storm, 7,667 fans made their way to the Assembly Hall to see the Illini scratch and claw their way to 7-7 in Big Ten play, the first time they’ve been .500 or better this late in a season since ending the 2010-11 season 9-9.

What the Nittany Lions said
“John Groce is doing a great job. His energy, his fire, his enthusiasm; Illinois is playing with a lot more toughness and defensive-minded. He’s doing a really good job.” — coach Patrick Chambers

What the Illini said
“I’ve got to give (Penn State) a lot of credit. They were physical, they played hard, they play with a lot of passion. They just wouldn’t go
away; they just kept fighting.” — coach John Groce

What it means
With the win, the Illini now have won 20 or more games in the regular season for the second time in the last five seasons. The other time the Illini reached that number during that stretch, they made the NCAA tournament.

What’s next
The Illini will look for their first six-game conference winning streak since the 2004-05 season on Sunday at seventh-ranked Michigan, which won 70-64 last month in Champaign.

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Bwp 5P wrote on February 22, 2013 at 6:02 am

52 fouls????? That was ridiculous. Let the game have some flow!


Can't wait to see what Moonpie's 1/2 cooked thoughts are...other than typically negative!

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

Really, it's only 19 wins. Chaminade does not count for NCAA Tournament and RPI stats because they are a Div. II team. We need to get Nebraska or anyone else coming up to get that magic 20 win total...just a reminder. Folks seem to forget about this little deal.

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

Game was so grindy I shoveled my driveway for diversion. Painful to watch, but this is the BIG

tntsher wrote on February 22, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Any Illini Faithful know that PSU has given us (the team & fans) fits for several years. Their zone defense and solid guard play make for a tough W everytime, at University Park or Assembly Hall. This was a game I was concerned with, especially with PSU losing 14 in a row B1G games and the fact that they are still playing hard and giving good teams fits. These games are always sluggish and usually ugly and PSU manages to stay around till the end, and you know when a team can do that, anything can happen at the end. Yes, this game was also ugly, an ugly W, and right now I am happy as can be to have it. This kind of game takes patience and fight on every possesion and I thought we did just that. Oh, there were mental lapses, there always are some. Brandon was impatient again and didn't look for the open man like he has the last few games. But he played stellar D and hustled his butt off. I agree with complaints about the calling of this game. Way too ticky-tack! I actually believe that the officiating in the B1G this year has been ATROCIOUS! I hope that the B1G Commish & staff are looking at this because it is becoming hard to watch these officials act like the game is about them. The games take for ever with no flow and MANY calls are being made by tired old officials who are out of position. Last night Jim Jackson said several times after a replay of a foul showed no contact that the official who made the call was blocked from view of the play.