Illini fall apart in another Big Ten loss

Illini fall apart in another Big Ten loss

CHAMPAIGN — Establish Leron Black early? Check.

Hit the offensive boards hard and rebound? Check.

Get scoring from players other than Black and Trent Frazier, particularly with the former in foul trouble and the latter the focus of the Penn State defense? Check and check, with Kipper Nichols and Te’Jon Lucas both providing an offensive lift in the first half.

Illinois did many of the things it had to Sunday night against the Nittany Lions. At least in the first half.
The final 20 minutes were a different story, or, more correctly, another chapter in the same story for the Illini.

Inconsistency has reigned this season, and Sunday’s game was no exception. Penn State was able to turn a one-point lead at halftime — earned after another self-inflicted Illini mistake — into a 74-52 victory in front of a 12,840 State Farm Center crowd that headed to the exits en masse and early.

“We played well the first half,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “I thought we got the ball where we needed to get it. Then the second half was just … I wish we could eliminate halftimes.

“I don’t know. We didn’t run anything. We jogged cuts. We’re a team right now that one mistake and we just hang our heads, and it affects the next play. We’ve got to get by that.”

Illinois ended the first half on a brief 1 minute, 16 second scoring drought. By the time Black hit a jumper with 12:42 to play in the second half, the Illini had been scoreless for nearly 9 minutes. Not quite the 111/2 minutes without a point at Ohio State a week prior, but a scoring drought long enough that Penn State was able to take a double-digit lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

“We weren’t really running offense,” Black said. “We’ve just got to move the ball more and make better decisions. We were taking tough shots. We’ve got to get in the spread quicker.

“When they were sitting in that little press they were in, by the time we got the ball across half court it was 10 seconds left on the clock. We’ve got to get into spread quicker and get the cutters through.”

Underwood was even less thrilled by the way his team ended the game. Illinois made just four shots in the final 12 minutes. Got beat on the boards. Missed free throws. Continued to turn the ball over.

“I wasn’t very pleased with that locker room,” Underwood said. “I wasn’t very pleased with who that locker room became (Sunday). That frustrates me for them. I’ve got to do a better job. We’ve got to identify who we are. It’s a good basketball team we lost to, but still. It’s not what I like.”

Penn State was the opposite. The Nittany Lions turned five points in six seconds into a lead at half fueled by a three-pointer after rebounding an airball and a layup on an inbounds play following an Illini turnover.

“To be able to take a one-point lead into halftime was a big swing for us,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. “I saw better body language and disposition in halftime. You could see their shoulders were back and heads were high.  I thought that definitely gave us a little giddy-up going into the second half.”

Penn State was just as ineffective to start the second half. The Nittany Lions were equally as scoreless as the Illini through the first 3 minutes, but Penn State had an answer and the effort to make it happen.

“We weren’t pleased with our defensive effort, and (Illinois’) elbow action really hurt us,” Chambers said about the first half. “We got some stops, and then you’re able to get some easy ones once you get out on the break. … Those first 3 minutes nobody wanted to take the lead, and nobody wanted to take the game over. We were fortunate to be able to get on a little bit of a run there.”

How Penn State approached the second half stood in stark contrast to Illinois, and it was something Underwood noticed and mentioned. Even up double digits late, he saw the Nittany Lions continuing to talk with each other about matchups.

“They’re almost fighting about who’s going to guard Trent,” Underwood said. “That’s competing. Quiet teams lose. I’ve said it since the day I got the job.”

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read the DI wrote on February 12, 2018 at 10:02 am

We really, really, really stink.

Moonpie wrote on February 12, 2018 at 12:02 pm

We. Will. Win.

Why not us?

Not even worthy of the NIT.