Illinois Penn St Basketball

Penn State's Jalen Pickett (22) pulls up to shoot on Illinois' Dain Dainja (42) and Coleman Hawkins (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Gary M. Baranec)

What team does Illinois hope to NOT see at the Big Ten tournament? Easy answer: Penn State. Unless Jalen Pickett isn't available.

Led by their superstar Pickett, the Nittany Lions dominated Brad Underwood's team Tuesday night for the second time this season. The Illini are 0 for PSU after the 93-81 loss.

1

Going on the road and getting thumped isn't the end of the world for Illinois. But it was surprising, especially considering how well the team played in the second half against Rutgers on Saturday.

Illinois' chance to get back into the Big Ten title race is certainly on life support.

The bigger issue is a possible small drop in the eyes of the NCAA tournament selection committee. As you all know, being a No. 5 or 6 seed is a whole lot better than being an 8 or 9.

Illini warmups

The Illini warm up before Tuesday's game.

2

Penn State entered the game likely on the outside looking in when it comes to the NCAA tournament. But sweeping the Illini will do the Nittany Lions a ton of good when the selection committee gets together in early March. Enough to get them in? Maybe not. But closer. Every little bit helps.

Penn State hasn't made the field since 2011.

3

Terrence Shannon Jr. did everything he could to help Illinois win its second in a row. Besides leading the team in scoring, he chipped in his usual bunch of rebounds, assists and steals. He is also the most reliable player for Illinois at the free throw line.

4

Pickett had almost a perfect first half, hitting 10 of 12 shots from the floor, including 4 of 6 threes, for 24 points and five assists. The All-American finished with a season-high 41 points. Wonder how much better his old school, Siena, would be with him. The Saints are 17-9.

Illinois Penn St Basketball

Penn State’s Jalen Pickett (22) defends Illinois’ Coleman Hawkins (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Gary M. Baranec)

5

Illinois is now 1-2 on Valentine's Day during the Underwood era. Before Tuesday, it lost to Indiana on the holiday in 2018 and beat Ohio State the following season.

1990 ice storm

Feb. 15, 1990: John Hedeman, left, looks at his tree-covered car on West Charles Street in Champaign, as neighbor Greg Dubois looks on.

6

Of course, for longtime Illinois fans, the Valentine's Day game they remember best came in 1990. legend Lou Henson's team, then ranked No. 15, beat Northwestern 88-75. The news came outside the Assembly Hall, with a brutal ice storm crippling the area. I was one of the lucky ones who only lost power for a night. Others were without electricity for a good chunk of the week.

Lots of interesting slides home that night.

7

Always good to hear Jess Settles on the broadcast. The former Iowa standout offers a different take as analyst. I haven't taken an official count, but it sure feels like former Illini Stephen Bardo has done the most Illinois games this season.

Settles was critical of Illinois' defense in the first half. Spot on after the team gave up 53 points.

He is also a Dain Dainja fan, calling for Illinois to get him the ball more often.

By the way, his play-by-play partner Kevin Brown sounds like Joe Buck.

Early crowd

The crowd filters in before Tuesday's game.

8

I've never seen a game at Bryce Jordan Center. In fact, my only visit there was before an Illinois-Penn State football game. It looks like a nice place ... for a concert.

The remoteness of State College makes it difficult for the Penn State program to fill the building on a weeknight. Thus, the curtain that covers the top section.

In hindsight, Penn State would have been better off with an 8,000-seat arena it could pack for every game.

Somehow, the school has no issues filling Beaver Stadium during the football season. It will be that way again in in the fall, when James Franklin brings back a powerhouse team.

9

Nice to see R.J. Melendez back on the court after he was suspended for the Rutgers game. Illinois needs all hands on deck the rest of the season and the sophomore could be a part of that.

Ty Rodgers bucket

Illinois freshman Ty Rodgers scores in the first half Tuesday.

10

Freshman of the Game honors for Illinois go to Ty Rodgers, who hit all five shots and scored 10 points in the first half. Without his help, the Illini would have trailed by 20 at the break.

Deon and Brian

Radio talents Deon Thomas and Brian Barnhart on their way to Tuesday's game at Penn State.

11

Underwood joined Voice of the Illini Brian Barnhart and Deon Thomas on WDWS after the game. He was not pleased with the effort.

"We got our butt kicked," he said.

Pickett creates problems that Illinois couldn't handle.

"You pick your poison. They are a team that leads the free world in threes. You can't do what we've done.

"We just didn't play hard. We had no bite tonight. You're not going to win on the road when you do that."

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-393-8248 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

College Football Reporter/Columnist

Bob Asmussen is a college football reporter and columnist for The News-Gazette. His email is asmussen@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@BobAsmussen).