Game Grades: Penn State vs. Illinois
The now 16-15 Penn State Nittany Lions captured victory in the final game of the regular season at home. The Illinois Fighting Illini (13-18) did not go quietly, however, with the game needing to be decided in double overtime. The double overtime was in large part to Illinois’ Malcolm Hill who had a career high 39 points. But a complete effort from the Nittany Lions outweighed that strong singular performance from Hill to capture the 86-79 victory at home.
Coach Chambers got a strong performance from his starting guards Shep Garner and Josh Reaves, with each scoring in double figures. The two had a combined 35 points from the field, with Garner being the Nittany Lions’ leading scorer at 22. Both players had strong defensive stats as well with Reaves gathering two steals and three blocks while Garner added three steals. This game was one of the most complete from the two guards this year and shows what will have to be done in the Big Ten tournament to set the Nittany Lions up for a potential NIT bid.
The frontcourt had the second leading scorer for the Nittany Lions with Brandon Taylor providing his seventh 20+ point performance of the season. In the late game, Taylor was also commanding double teams and a lot of attention that helped to free up many of his teammates. Alongside him was fellow senior Jordan Dickerson, whose defensive presence was a major factor late in regulation and into the two overtimes. Dickerson had four blocks on the stat sheet, but also made many shots difficult for the Illini and even stopped a pass at the end of regulation that could have led to the game-winning bucket. That same frontcourt did allow Malcolm Hill to go to the line 16 times however, which was a big reason for his 39 points.
Donovon Jack was the best performer off of the bench with his 10 point contribution. But other than Jack, there was no real contributions off of the bench. Isaiah Washington did provide a nice touch from beyond the arc with all six or his points coming from distance. The bench was not as needed in this game as in others with the starters playing so well, but their contributions could be vital if they have any hopes of a deep Big Ten Tournament run.
Pat Chambers’ message this season has been one game at a time and to play tough basketball every night. He recognized on Sunday that his starters were playing well and relied on them for the entirety of the game. And in the late game, Chambers did a good job drawing up plays that would lead to easy buckets such as the in-bounds play to Garner from Reaves in the overtime. The culture in Happy Valley has been changed surrounding Penn State basketball and that was not any more apparent than in the game against Illinois. The team fought hard for every point and never allowed Illinois to take any real lead, which can be attributed to the coaching of Chambers.
David Arroyo is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
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Senior / Broadcast Journalism