Nittany Lions Hold on in Double Overtime to Beat Illini

Story posted March 6, 2016 in Sports, CommRadio by Brandon Pelter

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions might’ve lost any chance at an NIT bid with a 71-61 loss on Thursday against Northwestern, but Penn State (16-15, 7-11 Big Ten) came out determined on Sunday against Illinois (13-18, 5-13 Big Ten) in their final game of the regular season. The Nittany Lions secured their 16th win of the season with an 86-79 double-overtime win over Illinois.

“I’m so proud of this group, so proud,” Penn State head coach Pat Chambers said. “They knew what was on the line. They never wavered, they had laser-like focus.”

The Nittany Lions got out to an early lead, ahead of Illinois 14-8 at the first TV timeout just over seven minutes into the game.

The Nittany Lions held the lead for most of the first half. It wasn’t until Malcolm Hill, who tallied 39 points and 13 rebounds, put the Fighting Illini ahead 19-18 with 8:42 to go in the first for their first lead of the game.

Through the rest of the first half both teams kept it close and at the end of the first, the Nittany Lions held on to a 37-36 lead.

To start off the second half, both teams got off to a slow start, but Penn State started to pick up the pace five minutes in. Isaiah Washington nailed a three with 15:13 to go that sparked the Nittany Lions, who went on a 10-4 run over the next three minutes to put them ahead 53-43, which would be their largest lead of the game.

But, the Fighting Illini represented their name and fought back led by Hill, who scored 24 of his 39 points in the second half.

“He hit a lot of tough shots,” Chambers said. “He is a terrific basketball player, I mean he’s got just a terrific step-back going left, fade away that is very difficult to guard and we put multiple guys on him… He’s a big-time player.”

With just 27 seconds to go, Hill went 1-2 from the free-throw line to put his team ahead by two 67-65. Then, out of a Penn State timeout Shep Garner, who tallied 22 points, split defenders and finished a layup while being fouled. Garner missed the free-throw shot, as the game remained tied at 67.

“I was trying to get the ball to the big fella,” Garner said. “But, they fronted him so I just back cut and finished the layup… My coaches and my teammates told me to get over it, power clap, and move on. That’s our thing, we power clap and we move on, it works.”

The Nittany Lions played strong defense in the final 14 seconds sending the game to overtime. A minute and a half into the overtime period, Hill hit a three to put Illinois ahead, but the Nittany Lions responded just a minute later when Garner hit a crucial three after the Nittany Lions hit two free throws.

Down by two, it was none other than Hill who tied the game at 72 with two made free-throws with 21 seconds left.

In the second overtime period, it was all Penn State as they outscored Illinois 19-12 led by senior Brandon Taylor. In the final overtime period, it was solid free-throw shooting from the charity stripe that made the difference, as the Nittany Lions went 11-12.

“We had fresh legs, for the most part, and I think that every huddle we had was positive,” Taylor said. “That was the difference. We could’ve put our heads down when Shep missed his free-throw, or if someone turned the ball over, or anything. We didn’t put or heads down and we stayed together. We stick together through everything.”

With Sunday’s win, the Nittany Lions will have a bye in the first round of the Big Ten Conference Tournament.  They will be in action on Thursday in Indianapolis as they take on Ohio State.

Brandon Pelter is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism and finance. To contact him, email brandon.pelter@gmail.com.