Penn State (14-12, 6-7 Big Ten) came in hoping to build off its big upset of No. 21 Maryland in a showdown with Illinois. The Illini (14-12, 4-9 Big Ten) tried to earn for back-to-back Big Ten for the first time in two years, but the Nittany Lions were able to continue their success and beat Illinois in Champaign for the first time since 2009 with an 83-70 win.
How It Happened
Penn State started the day just how it finished against Maryland, with tough defense that forced the Illini commit turnovers and take unwanted shots. Freshman forward Mike Watkins and sophomore guardReaves especially shined on this end.
Sophomore Deividas Zemgulis rotated in for big man Mike Watkins as Julian Moore was out with an illness. The freshman saw most of the minutes in the first half with a big payoff. The Nittany Lions controlled the boards on both ends the whole half.
The issue for Penn State was that it couldn’t stop the Illini’s three point shooting, who shot 4-7 from deep with the better part of the half gone.
As time wound down, the Nittany Lions heated up — going on a 12-0 run at one point. Payton Banks seemingly came out of nowhere in the half after not scoring at all against Maryland on Tuesday, Banks shot 6-9 on field goals and 3-5 on threes — accounting for 15 total points for the half, the most among Penn State.
With Penn State’s big finish, it started the second half up 41-29 and continued where it left off. Josh Reaves and Tony Carr got in on all the fun Payton Banks was having by sinking consecutive threes. Offensive rebounding was also key early in the second half with the Nittany Lions securing 10 second chance points.
With less than 10 minutes left in the half, Illinois started to heat up while Penn State cooled down a bit. Bad turnovers and fouls gave Illinois a chance to get back in the game. After being down 19 points at one time, the Illini went on a 14-0 scoring run with Penn State unable to score for four minutes — shortening its lead to five.
Luckily, the leaders of the day Payton Banks and Lamar Stevens were able to give Penn State life again with a couple of threes the old fashioned way. The game turned sloppy on both ends with fouls seemingly coming on every possession as both teams got into the double bonus with three minutes left to play.
With the lead, Penn State managed to close out the Illini from the foul line for an 83-70 victory.
Player Of The Game
Payton Banks | Forward | Junior
This could have gone to Lamar Stevens as well, but Banks’ performance was worthy mainly because of his timing. Banks got the Nittany Lions hot in the first half and helped put the momentum on their side. In the second half, he ended the scoring drought and allowed Penn State to hold on to its lead. Coming of the bench, he finished with a season-high 24 points.
The Nittany Lions hope to continue their winning ways when they travel to Lincoln on Tuesday to take on Nebraska (10-14, 4-8 Big Ten) at 9 p.m. live on BTN.