Nittany Lions Top Illinois 86-79 In Double Overtime, Salvage Regular Season Finale
It wasn’t a pretty victory, but Penn State (16-15, 7-11) was too much for Illinois (13-18, 5-13) Sunday afternoon, defeating the Illini 86-79 behind 20-point performances from Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner. With the win, Penn State clinches its first-ever bye in the Big Ten Tournament and since joining the conference, this is the first time it’s had three consecutive 16-win seasons.
How It Happened
Both sides got off to a good start, wasting little time getting on the scoreboard. Josh Reaves and Garner led the way for the Nittany Lions early, as Reaves finished strongly around the basket and Garner went 2-of-2 from three, putting Penn State up 10-4 within the first four minutes.
But the Illini withstood the early offensive onslaught and went on a 19-12 run to take a 23-22 advantage just minutes before the end of the first half. Illinois’ Malcolm Hill was a big reason for that, pouring in 13 points and 3 rebounds through the first 20 minutes of play. Unfortunately for the Illini, the three-ball began to fall again for the Nittany Lions just before halftime, as Donovon Jack, Payton Banks, and Garner all hit threes catapulting Penn State back on top 37-34.
Things were all tied up at 39-39 in the second half until Taylor came to life. The senior forward scored nine points during Penn State’s 14-4 run, giving the Nittany Lions a commanding 53-43 lead. But the Illini slowly chipped away at the deficit again, going on a seven-point run late in the second half to tie things up at 64-64. Hill continued his stellar play, calmly knocking down two free throws to put Illinois up 67-65 with under 30 seconds to go. But Garner was able to tie the game off a layup, forcing overtime in Happy Valley.
Garner hit a big three in the first overtime as Penn State took a 72-70 lead and held that lead until — who else — Hill found his way back to the free throw line, going 2-for-2 and forcing a second overtime. In the second OT, the Nittany Lions pulled away from an exhausted Illinois team whose shots began to fall short due to fatigue. Free throw shooting from Brandon Taylor and Josh Reaves was the difference in the end as Penn State escaped with an 86-79 victory.
Player Of The Game
Brandon Taylor | Senior | Forward
Both Garner and Taylor — and Reaves to a point — led the way for the Nittany Lions, but Taylor gets the nod for Player of the Game. The senior forward stepped it up in his final game in the Bryce Jordan Center, scoring 21 points and pulling down 10 rebounds for a double-double.
Penn State will next be in action at the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis with its opponent TBD. The Nittany Lions have a first-round bye for the first time in their history.