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Penn State Basketball: Illinois Game Notes and Live Blog

The Nittany Lions look to stop a four-game losing streak against the Illini at home tonight.



Dec 7, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Micah Shrewsberry reacts from the bench during the second half against the Michigan State Spartans at Bryce Jordan Center. Michigan State defeated Penn State 67-58. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State basketball (14-11, 5-9 Big Ten) hits the hardwood again tonight to take on Illinois (17-7, 8-5 Big Ten) inside the BJC. Tip-off is a 7 PM EST, and the game will air on ESPNU.

Amidst a four-game losing streak, the Nittany Lions’ Tournament hopes are growing slimmer by the day. If Micah Shrewsberry wants his team to make any postseason tournament this year, then the Lions will have to course-correct immediately.

“…the road doesn’t get easier,” Shrewsberry told reporters yesterday. “We know that, playing in this league, how tough it is and how tough it’s gonna be.”

Will Penn State basketball get back in the win column tonight? Your guess is as good as mine at this point. But follow along with Basic Blues Nation here for in-game stats and commentary. Because, at worst, misery loves company.

Game Notes – Stopping the Skid

As noted, Penn State comes into this matchup having lost its previous four games. A win against Illinois would be significant on many fronts. Currently No. 22 in the NCAA NET Rankings, a win would give Penn State its third Quad 1 victory of the season. Having already defeated the Illini in Champaign, the Nittany Lions are looking for their first regular-season sweep of Illinois since 2019.

However, the task will not be easy. Illinois has won eight of its last ten games, including a victory against No. 21 Rutgers (NET rankings) on Saturday. The Illini are near the top of the conference in nearly every major statistical category. On defense, Illinois leads the Big Ten in blocks and is top-three in rebounds, field goal percentage defense, and turnovers forced per game.

The Nittany Lions have struggled on the defensive end of the court in this recent losing skid. In the last four games, the Lions’ opponents have shot at least 50% from the field. The defense will be tested again tonight, as the Illini rank third in the Big Ten in scoring offense.

Traditionally this season, Penn State has pulled out games at home by scoring from deep. The Lions rank first in the conference (fourth nationally) with 10.8 three-pointers made per game. However, this may not be as much of an advantage tonight, as Illinois is third in the Big Ten in threes made per game.

If Penn State wants a chance tonight, turnovers must play a critical role. The Nittany Lions are second in the nation, with 8.9 turnovers per game. However, in Saturday’s loss at Maryland, they were terrible in this department, turning the ball over 13 times. The Illini, meanwhile, turn the ball over more than any team in the conference. If the defense can steal a few extra possessions tonight, then maybe – just maybe – Penn State has a chance to get the upset.

First Half Updates

15:00 Remaining: Penn State 14, Illinois 11. Both teams have started hot from the field. The Lions are currently shooting 6-9, including makes on four of their last five shots. Seth Lundy and Andrew Funk have already hit two big threes early to give Penn State the lead. Lundy leads all scorers with five points.

11:48: Penn State 22, Illinois 13. Illinois has cooled off, but Penn State continues to heat up. Penn State has made three of their last four three-pointers during a 10-2 run in the previous 3:55. Leading the way is Jalen Pickett, who already has nine points on 4-5 shooting.

8:41: Penn State 33, Illinois 24. The Illini made their surge, but the Nittany Lions responded. As Pickett headed to the bench for a quick breather, Illinois took advantage inside as part of a 6-0 run to pull it within three points. Pickett has the last eight points for Penn State, including two big threes. He currently has 17 points on the evening. Lundy is also shooting the ball well, but the Lions aren’t getting help from anyone else. Ty Rogers leads Illini scorers with six points.

3:15: Penn State 44, Illinois 33. Penn State has been distributing the ball well and paying it off with good shot selections. The Lions’ last five baskets from the floor have been from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, the Illini have only made one shot in their previous four attempts. Penn State currently holds its largest lead of the night.

Halftime: Penn State 53, Illinois 40. Jalen Pickett has passed the 2,000-point mark for his career. Technically speaking, Pickett is playing out of his mind. He has 24 points on 10-12 shooting – against one of the best defenses in the conference, no less.

So far, I can pick out two differentiating factors in this game. First, Penn State has been lights out from beyond the arc. The Nittany Lions are currently shooting 56% from deep (63% overall). On the other hand, the Illini are shooting 36% from three (50% overall).

Second, the Nittany Lions are capitalizing on Illinois’s turnovers. Although the turnover margin is slim (5-2 in favor of Penn State), the Lions have scored 13 points off Illini turnovers, compared to a single point for Illinois.

Penn State is certainly playing like they have something to prove. We’ll see if this continues in the second half.

Second Half Updates

15:15: Penn State 64, Illinois 52. Penn State’s typical woes out of the halftime break continued tonight. Illinois started the second half on a 7-1 run to make it a single-digit game. But, the Nittany Lions reclaimed the momentum by making five of their last six shots to extend the margin to 12. Potentially of note for later – Kebba Njie has been forced to the bench with three personal fouls.

13:21: Penn State 68, Illinois 57. Pickett now has a new scoring high for the season with 30 points. The BJC scoring record is 37. The program record is 46. You know, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

11:56: Penn State 71, Illinois 57. The Jalen Pickett record watch is officially on. He currently has 33, four off of the BJC record. He has made 13 of his last 14 shots, including eight in a row.

8:00: Penn State 76, Illinois 66. Illinois used a 9-2 run to pull the score within eight with less than nine minutes to play. While watching Pickett go off has been fun, the lack of production from everyone else is a little concerning. Funk and Lundy have combined for 21 points. Pickett currently has 35, two shy of the BJC record.

3:51: Penn State 84, Illinois 71. Jalen Pickett has now tied the BJC scoring record with 37 points. The Lions have slowed down the pace of the game and should have enough of a margin to ride this one out.

Final: Penn State 93, Illinois 81

What else is there to say – it was the Jalen Pickett show. Pickett had 41 points, setting the BJC scoring record. It is also the best scoring performance for any Big Ten player this season.

Pickett showed why he is one of the best players in the country tonight. The most impressive part of Pickett’s performance (aside from all the points) was his efficiency. Pickett went 15-20 from the field, including 5-9 from deep, and 6-6 from the foul line.

Lundy (15 points), Funk (10 points), and Kanye Clary (12 points) had respectable scoring nights. But, Pickett willed the Nittany Lions to victory tonight. Penn State led for all but two minutes in this game.

Another impressive win has been added to the Nittany Lions’ resume. Penn State’s Tournament hopes live on.

Matt is a co-owner and Editor in Chief of Basic Blues Nation. Launched in 2022, Basic Blues Nation is one of the fastest-growing websites covering all Penn State athletics, with over 3.5 million readers in 2023. Matt is also a credentialed member of the Penn State football beat, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.


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