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Penn State Hoops Commands Illinois 93-81 To Snap Four-Game Skid

Penn State men’s basketball (15-11, 6-9 Big Ten) quieted Illinois (17-8, 8-6 Big Ten) 93-81 Tuesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center.

It was a career night for Jalen Pickett, who scored 41 points in the Nittany Lions’ much-needed home win against the Illini.

How It Happened

Kebba Njie earned the opening tip to get things started for the Nittany Lions. Andrew Funk couldn’t connect a triple attempt in the team’s first possession, but neither could Illinois.

Jalen Pickett opened the scoring in the Nittany Lions’ next possession with a jumper just inside the arc, followed by a steal and dunk from Seth Lundy to take a fast 4-0 lead over the Illini.

Illinois quickly regained its deficit to tie Micah Shrewsberry’s squad at six, and then the threes began to drop for Penn State. Funk and Lundy each nailed three-pointers on back-to-back possessions, and Pickett ended the hot streak with a jumper to capitalize on a 14-11 lead through five minutes.

Kanye Clary provided an instant energy burst off the bench with a bucket and a free throw conversion to jump to a nine-point lead coming out of the media timeout. Freshmen Evan Mahaffey and Jameel Brown also hit the floor midway through the opening half.

Illinois soon began to cut Penn State’s lead and take advantage of the young Nittany Lions through free throws and fastbreak buckets.

Then, after a few substitutions, Lundy nearly converted a four-point play after a shooting foul from Matthew Mayer sent him to the charity stripe. Lundy’s attempt didn’t sink, but Pickett drained a triple in the following possession to jump to a 30-22 lead.

The Illini continued to only notch the scoreboard from the foul line and Pickett was just beginning to get into his groove. The point guard buried a picture-perfect stepback three-pointer, forcing Illinois to call a timeout.

Myles Dread got in on the scoring action with a swishing three for Penn State’s seventh triple of the night. Lundy immediately followed with one of his own to extend the Nittany Lions’ lead to 39-30.

Clary knocked down two free throws and Funk grabbed a three to jump to an 11-point lead, but the Illini continued to battle in the paint.

Pickett sunk his 2,000th-career point from beyond the arc to gain a 14-point lead over Illinois with under three minutes remaining in the opening half.

Ty Rodgers took care of a second-chance dunk along with a three-pointer from Coleman Hawkins, but Pickett continued to shine and drained a last-second jump shot to the sound of the halftime buzzer.

The Nittany Lions led the Ilini 53-40 at the end of the first 20 minutes of play.

Illinois sunk a pair of baskets to get the final half rolling and Njie drew a foul in Penn State’s second possession. The freshman center went one-for-two from the line.

Despite a hefty lead at halftime, the Nittany Lions fell victim to a Illinois hot streak. The Illini made four-straight attempts, and their run was only stopped by a classic Funk jump shot to regain an 11-point lead.

Mikey Henn made his presence known in the post with an offensive rebound and put-back followed by an immediate block on defense.

Pickett and Mayer traded three-pointers down the stretch and the buckets continued to drop for the Nittany Lions. Midway through the second half, Penn State led the Illini by 15 in a similar fashion to its second-half beatdown of Illinois in the team’s first meeting in early December.

Terrence Shannon Jr. picked up the Illini’s sixth triple of the night, but Illinois’ conversions from distance felt microscopic in comparison to Penn State’s 11.

The final handful of minutes of the second half were highlighted by incredible defense from Lundy, Clary, and Mahaffey. While still putting up generally consistent numbers, Illinois struggled to gain any sort of momentum for slow down the Nittany Lions on either side of the court.

The Nittany Lions took care of business with a final score of 93-81 and snapped their four-game losing streak heading into the final five games of the regular season.

Takeaways:

  • As if Jalen Pickett hasn’t had enough ~career nights~, tonight was another one. The captain dropped 24 points at halftime, including his 2,000th, for a total of 41. Along with eight assists, and two rebounds, this guy deserves every award and honor coming his way. Notably, Pickett broke the Bryce Jordan Center’s single-game point total with a perfect 41 points.
  • Penn State needed this win like nothing else. While the Nittany Lions *technically* still have a small chance of dancing, any win is a huge win for this program.

What’s Next?

The Nittany Lions will head to Minneapolis to take on Minnesota on Saturday, February 18. Tip-off is set for 9 p.m. and the matchup will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.

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About the Author

Keeley Lamm

Keeley is a junior journalism major from Richmond, Virginia, and is Onward State's managing editor. She also talks about awesome stuff on our podcast, Podward State. Keeley is a lover of grilled cheese and Kevin Jonas. If you'd like to share your thoughts on the superior Jonas Brother, feel free to contact her on Twitter @keeleylammm or send your best joke to her email [email protected].

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