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Penn State Hoops Drops Close Game To No. 20 Illinois 60-55

Penn State men’s basketball (12-15, 7-12 Big Ten) suffered a close 60-55 loss to No. 20 Illinois (21-8, 14-5 Big Ten).

Led by Jalen Pickett’s 18 points and big minutes from Greg Lee, Penn State did a good job sticking with the No. 20 team in the country on offense. But the Nittany Lions couldn’t make a move ahead on the scoreboard for more than a few minutes, despite the Fighting Illini being in striking distance for the majority of the game.

How It Happened

Jalen Pickett kicked off the scoring draining a short jump shot to put Penn State up 2-0

Illinois’ Trent Frazier swiftly responded on the other end with a three-pointer, and Jacob Grandison followed that up with one of his own. Kofi Cockburn drained two free-throws to retake the lead for Illinois.

Then, Seth Lundy got involved in the deep ball action, sinking one from beyond the arch to inch the Nittany Lions closer.

Both teams began to hit a wall, each going almost three minutes without a made basket. Illinois’ Omar Payne finally ended the drought with a layup and Pickett ended Penn State’s on the following possession. Both teams must’ve been saving the scoring for the second 10 minutes of the first half, because then things rapidly started to pick up.

Caleb Dorsey drained a three-pointer to inch the Nittany Lions closer, with the score sitting at 10-9 in favor of Illinois.

Teams traded blows for the next four minutes, until Greg Lee, who was back in the starting lineup for the Nittany Lions, scored his first bucket to give Penn State the 18-17 lead.

Exiting out of the media timeout, Illinois’ lead ballooned out to 24-18, and the Fighting Illini seemingly had all the momentum until Lee put it to a halt, flashing his versatility by making a three-ball.

Penn State then went on a run of its own, capped off by Lundy’s second three-pointer of the game that brought Penn State back within one. A few possessions later, a Lee dunk and a Pickett three, which gave him a game-high 10 points, had the Nittany Lions up 30-27.

Illinois managed to get two points via free throws by Da’monte Williams, but Penn State would keep a 30-29 advantage heading into the locker room.

Illinois came out of the break hot, scoring six points from the jump. But Pickett remained hot, scoring six of his own in response to keep the game tied at 36 a piece. 

Everything that Illinois threw Penn State’s way, the Nittany Lions had an answer and vice versa. 

Neither Illinois nor Penn State could hang on to a sizable lead. The theme of team basketball continued as well, with nearly everyone on both teams contributing on the scoreboard.

Just under the 13-minute mark of the second half, Lundy his his third three of the game, and Williams responded with his third.

It looked like Illinois might’ve had something going, cooking up a four-point lead, but a jumper by Lee and John Harrar’s first two buckets of the game put an end to that quickly. But as was the case all game, Williams had the answer from deep and put Illinois back on top 49-47.

Moments later, Picket got back in the action with a jumper, and Dallion Johnson got on the scoreboard with a triple to give Penn State a 52-50 lead with six minutes remaining.

However, that would be the last one that the Nittany Lions owned.

Illinois went back on top 55-52 with a pair of free throws courtesy of Alfonso Plummer and another Grandison three-pointer with 4:30 remaining in the second half.

That score would stick, until Penn State was forced to foul. A late Johnson three brought the score to 55-58, but Coleman Hawkins iced the game at the foul line for the Fighting Illini.

Takeaways

  • Penn State has stuck around with the big dogs all year, but just like always, the Nittany Lions can’t close it out and suffer a heartbreaker in a game where they had ample opportunities to make some noise in the college basketball world.
  • The Nittany Lions are much better when they have a backup/complimentary big guy to John Harrar, especially one as talented as Greg Lee. Harrar is the heart and soul of Penn State basketball, and just today set the program record for most games played with 142. But Lee kept the Nittany Lions in the game in the first half and displayed his versatility on multiple occasions, doing a lot that Harrar isn’t capable of at a high level.
  • Jalen Pickett is a bucket. The Siena transfer has had himself a great game scoring the basketball, finishing with a game-high 18 points and coming up with an answer for everything that Illinois served Penn State’s way. He continued doing what he’s been doing all season long for the Nittany Lions and will without a doubt remain a valuable asset when it comes to scoring the basketball for Penn State with still one year of eligibility remaining.

What’s Next?

Penn State closes out its 2021-22 regular season with a trip to Piscataway for a second date with Rutgers on Sunday, March 6. Tip off is set for noon, and the game can be viewed on the Big Ten Network.

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About the Author

Zach Donaldson

Zach is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. He is a writer for Onward State and serves as an editor for Penn State’s CommRadio. He hails from Downingtown, Pa., or in other words "just outside of Philly." When he's not watching or ranting about Philly sports, you can probably find him at the gym. If you like sports tweets, follow him on Twitter @zachdonaldson_ and all inquiries can go to [email protected]

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