Penn State Edges Illinois in Second Round of Big Ten Tournament
CHICAGO, Ill. – Penn State men’s basketball was able to outlast Illinois Thursday night in a narrow 79-76 win that came down to the wire.
All season, Penn State has taken the phrase “gritty, not pretty” and applied it to their style of play. Against Illinois in the third matchup this season, it was no different.
“This group is together. We’re smart. We’re tough. I love this group,” head coach Micah Shrewsberry said.
Penn State got out of the gates quickly in the first half and found their shots falling at a high rate. They took advantage of the aggressive Illini defense and got to the rim with little effort.
Cam Wynter was a key catalyst for the Nittany Lions early in the first half and he scored eight points in just seven minutes of action.
Illinois responded well and using the crowd advantage that they had all game, they clawed their way back to within one at the half.
Seth Lundy had a great first half for the blue and white and entered the break with 11 points and seven rebounds, but the momentum seemed to favor the Fighting Illini.
“We weren’t rattled at all,” Lundy said. “This is nothing new. We are a tough team and we accept the challenge every single time.”
The Nittany Lions accepted the challenge and went right at it. They started the second half with one of Andrew Funk’s six triples in the evening.
The second half became a dog fight with the two teams trading buckets and neither side was able to distance themself from the other.
Then, in a big momentum swing, Dain Dainja picked up a technical foul and sparked a 7-0 run from the Nittany Lions.
A late run from the Nittany Lions and a battle to see who could miss more free throws eventually resulted in Penn State squeaking out their 20th win of the season.
Funk finished with 20 points to lead all scorers with 17 coming in the second half alone.
“We want to use that momentum, so trusting the guys around you to make plays and make shots,” Funk said.
Penn State battled its way back from being 5-9 in Big Ten play to now advancing into the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
Jalen Pickett has seen his scoring decrease in this stretch, but his impact on the court with his “booty ball” style as uttered by Illinois head coach Brad Underwood, is not unseen.
“I don’t have to force anything,” Pickett said. “I just try to make the right play every time down and get the right shot for Penn State.”
The Nittany Lions have now won a game in the conference tournament in the last six of seven completed conference tournaments.
They earned a third win over Illinois, a full-season sweep of the Fighting Illini this year. This win adds another Quad-1 win to their resume and almost fully cements them into the NCAA Tournament field.
“That’s great. We’ve been striving for that, but we’re still playing like it’s our last game,” Pickett said.
The blue and white are set for another matchup with the Wildcats of Northwestern after Cam Wynter’s heroics gave the Nittany Lions the edge in a matchup just over a week ago.
Penn State will continue its journey to a Big Ten Tournament Championship and extend its resume as much as it can.
“I love it that they believe in me, but I believe in them one hundred percent as well,” Shrewsberry said. “I want them to play as long as possible.”
Thomas English is a second-year broadcast journalism major. To contact him, email email@example.com.
About the Contributors
Second-year / Broadcast Journalism
Thomas is a broadcast journalist from Shorewood, Illinois which is an hour South of Chicago. He is a second-year student at Penn State majoring in Broadcast Journalism with a minor in Spanish. His goal is to be an ESPN broadcaster who covers a variety of sports including professional and college level football and basketball and bring entertainment to people all over the world. His other goal is to spread his love of sports to all cultures through projects that allow children of all ethnicities to learn and play all kinds of sports. He is currently an active member of CommRadio, a student run radio station at Penn State. He plans to create his own sports podcast as well as doing play by play and analysis for Penn State sporting events in the future. In the future, he hopes to use his skills to entertain people all over the world!