LIVE! Penn State

LIVE! Penn State

CHAMPAIGN — Illinois went nearly 9 minutes without scoring from the end of the first half fairly deep into the second half Sunday night at State Farm Center. Penn State didn't have similar struggles offensively, and the Nittany Lions rolled to a 74-52 victory.

The loss — a third straight — drops Illinois to 12-14 and 2-11 in the Big Ten despite a game-high 18 points from Leron Black. The Illini will be back in action Wednesday in a rematch with Indiana in Bloomington, Ind.

Be sure to check out Monday's News-Gazette and IlliniHQ.com for more from the game.

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Penn State 49, Illinois 40 — 11:54 left in 2nd half

It didn't quite reach Ohio State proportions, but dating back to the end of the first half, Illinois went 8 minutes, 34 seconds without scoring. In the second half alone, the Illini managed 11 possessions before Leron Black got them on the board. In those 11 possessions, Illinois missed eight shots, had four turnovers and saw Te'Jon Lucas miss both free throws after he was fouled attacking the basket.

Penn State has made five of its last six shots. While a Mark Smith pull-up jumper in transition put the Illini within single digits, defense has not been great.

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Penn State 41, Illinois 36 — 15:40 left in 2nd half

Well, we made it to the first media timeout of the second half, and I'll has yet to score. The Illini, in fact, have missed all five of their shot attempts. Penn State was in a similar situation for the first 3 minutes of the half. The Nittany Lions missed their first four shots. Then Nazeer Bostick scored on a layup (the same play Trent Frazier was whistled for traveling on) and Mike Watkins scored over Leron Black on the block.

Now the question is how much will this scoring drought resemble the one at Ohio State? 

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Penn State 37, Illinois 36 — Halftime

Well ... the Illini did have the lead. Then Penn State got a three-pointer, Illinois turned it over and the Nittany Lions scored again with a layup off a BLOB in the closing seconds of the half. Penn State has taken some questionable shots — mostly three-pointers — but the Nittany Lions are still shooting 56 percent for the game. That will usually get the job done. So will making all five of your layups and your only dunk.

Meanwhile, Illinois has actually found some offense beyond what Leron Black and Trent Frazier have provided of late. Black does have nine points to lead the team, but so does Kipper Nichols. That's kind of a big deal for the Illini. Te'Jon Lucas going 4 of 5 and scoring eight points in the first half is probably an even bigger deal given his, let's say, inconsistencies in scoring.

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Illinois 23, Penn State 23 — 7:51 left in 1st half

What turned into approximately a 4 minute scoring drought for Illinois (courtsey of five straight missed shots) allowed Penn State to tie the game. Here's where it becomes painfully obvious that the Illini have serious issues offensively when either Leron Black or Trent Frazier is on the bench, which become twice as bad when they're both not on the court (as is currently the case). But two fouls on Black means he won't be back on the court much here in the first half.

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Illinois 21, Penn State 15 — 11:59 left in 1st half

Brad Underwood wants the Illini to get Leron Black going offensively. Mission accomplished so far tonight. The redshirt junior forward has nine points on 3 of 4 shooting and also has a pair of rebounds. Speaking of rebounds, the Illini hold an early 8-2 rebounding edge and have rebounded five of their seven misses. That's the kind of offensive rebounding Underwood likes.

Kipper Nichols also has five points in 4 minutes for Illinois. Thus far he's been "Aggressive, engaged Kipper." That's what the Illini need all the time. 

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Illinois vs. Penn State — 6 p.m., BTN

We have an answer about Illinois' lineup for tonight's game. The Illini, without Michael Finke, are still going big in the frontcourt with Greg Eboigbodin getting the first start of his career joining Leron Black up front. The Illinois backcourt is a little different, too, as Aaron Jordan is joining Trent Frazier and Mark Alstork in place of Kipper Nichols. It's Jordan's third start of the season.

Penn State, meanwhile, will trot out its usual lineup with Tony Carr, Shep Garner and Josh Reaves in the backcourt and Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins in the frontcourt.

"When you dive into them, I really like their parts," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "I love the Watkins kid inside. He’s kind of like Inspector Gadget. He’s got the long arms that go on forever. He clogs the paint up, and then they’ve got guys that know their roles. They’re not an extremely deep team when you look at productivity off the bench, but they are very much improved and a very, very good basketball team."

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Illinois vs. Penn State — 6 p.m., BTN

Let's be fair. This is another game — of several at this point — where Illinois will play a game where it doesn't have the best player on the court. That distinction goes to Penn State guard Tony Carr tonight. The Nittany Lions' sophomore ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring at 19.3 ppg, which puts him just 0.6 ppg behind Ohio State's Keita Bates-Diop for the conference lead.

Carr isn't just a scorer either. The 6-foot-5 Philadelphia native is also averaging 4.9 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game. And his play in big moments? He's come through, including a long buzzer-beating three-pointer that gave Penn State an upset win at Ohio State in late January, which was just the third time — ever — the Nittany Lions had won in Columbus.

"They’ve got an elite guard in Carr — arguably maybe the best point guard in the league," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "He’s got great size, and he scores it. He can go get one. He’s got size at 6-5 and scores a lot off the bounce."

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Illinois vs. Penn State — 6 p.m., BTN

No Michael Finke makes for an interesting decision for Brad Underwood to make. Will the Illini go big with Greg Eboigbodin or small with somebody else? Going with a smaller lineup — maybe Aaron Jordan as a starter — might be the better option. Whether it was Finke or Eboigbodin, they were going to be matched up with Penn State big man Mike Watkins with Leron Black likely having to guard Lamar Stevens.

Stevens would undoubtedly have an edge in athleticism on Black. Going with Jordan, who would give up some size to Stevens for sure, would still allow Black to match up with Watkins.

The real wild card is Kipper Nichols. He was a non factor Thursday at Wisconsin, barely playing in the second half dealing with what Underwood called a "sinus issue" that was apparenlty resolved by 6 a.m. Friday for the team's practice.

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Illinois vs. Penn State — 6 p.m., BTN

Michael Finke will miss today’s game against Penn State after suffering a concussion Saturday in practice a team spokesman confirmed. Finke chased a loose ball to the floor Saturday afternoon and took an inadvertent blow to the head that also opened up a cut over his right eye.

The Centennial grad is averaging 9.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game this season. He started the previous 25 games for the Illini.

Finke will be in attendance at State Farm Center, but it is unlikely he'll watch the game from the bench per instructions from head athletic trainer Paul Schmidt. The music during the team's shootaround earlier today exacerbated the concussion symptoms.

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Welcome back to another LIVE! Report with beat writer Scott Richey (as always, that's me) coming to you courtside at State Farm Center. Today marks one of the last remaining home games for Illinois this season, with just two more opportunities for the Illini to play on their own court after squaring off against Penn State starting in about an hour.

Home, of course, is where Illinois' only Big Ten wins have come this season, with back to back victories against Indiana and Rutgers. Home is also where the Illini (12-13, 2-10 Big Ten) lost to the likes of Maryland, Iowa, Michigan State and Thursday to Wisconsin. Where will Penn State (17-9, 7-6) fit in given the fact the Nittany Lions are the road favorite?

Penn State the favorite in Champaign. That's not a sentence that has probably been typed all that often. But that's the reality of this season. Illinois has shown, in flashes, the potential it has. The Illini have had chances to win many of the games they've lost.

That's the crux of the issue. A loss is a loss. With 10 Big Ten losses now stacked up, the idea of moral victories flies out the window. Inconsistent play and a series of self-inflicted mistakes has sunk the Illini's chances repeatedly this season.

With tipoff coming at 6 p.m. — give thanks for not an 8 p.m. start — more Illinois basketball coverage will be coming your way here at IlliniHQ.com. In the meantime, catch up on what you might have missed ...

The word on the Illini from our Loren Tate? It's a "help wanted" situation.

Lineups, storylines and the beat writer's pick for today's game

Frazier dazzles, Illini fizzle in another loss to Wisconsin

Ethan Happ causes trouble again for the Badgers

No rest for the weary Illini

CHAMPAIGN — Thursday's loss to Wisconsin was a step back for Illinois after winning its first two Big Ten games and competing on the road against a ranked Ohio State.

Having to call an early morning practice Friday didn't exactly help matters. Illinois coach Brad Underwood didn't share specifics, but said that while the Illini might have been back in the gym just hours after losing to the Badgers, they weren't there for the play or result from the night before.

"This is a process," Underwood said. "It's about growth, and it's about culture. Guys have to do the right things off the court to do them on, and you have to win that way. I've got a pyramid I share all the time — talent, character, preparation and at the top of it is result — and it's got to be in that order."

Trent Frazier said Illinois had "a team issue" to work out early Friday morning.

"We're past that now and we're just going to focus on Penn State," the freshman guard said.

Illinois (12-13, 2-10 Big Ten) returns to action at 6 p.m. today against Penn State (17-9, 7-6) at State Farm Center. Finding some help for Frazier and redshirt junior forward Leron Black will be a priority against the Nittany Lions.

To continue reading, click here. Then keep coming back to IlliniHQ.com before, during and after today's game against Penn State for our comprehensive Illinois basketball coverage.

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BruckJr wrote on February 11, 2018 at 10:02 pm

The slush fund era was really bad.  The Whitman era is worse.

MasterOfTheObvious wrote on February 11, 2018 at 10:02 pm

Maybe the hashtag should go from #WeWillWin to #WeWill?When?

Football, 2-16 in the Big Ten over the 2 years of Lovie

Women's Basketball, 0-12 in the Big Ten under D3 Hall of Fame Head Coach Fahey, aka FOJ: Friend of Josh

Men's Basketball, 2-11 in the Big Ten under Underwhelming Underwood