Illini Lose To Penn State In Season-Ender

Photo caption: Illini Khalid Lewis looks to inbound the ball against Penn State's Jordan Dickerson.
Rob McColley/Illinois Public Media

Malcolm Hill scored a career-high 39 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, but it wasn't enough to get the Illini men past Penn State, as the Nittany Lions defeated Illinois 86-79 in double-overtime Sunday in Happy Valley.

Shep Garner had 22 points and 6 assists for Penn State, and Brandon Taylor added 21 points and 11 rebounds.

Khalid Lewis rallied Illinois to the first overtime with a combination of shots, free throws, assists, steals and a key block with 32 seconds remaining. He scored a season-high 10 points. His career high of 18 came at the University of Delaware.

Hill praised Lewis's performance.

“He had a couple big steals for us, a couple of big-time finishes, and shots that went in, too,” said Hill. “So, I’m really proud of him for that. He played really hard”

Lewis said he needed encouragement from Hill to be aggressive on offense.

“I found myself trying to get other people’s shots a lot,” said Lewis. “And I would look for shots myself, when I might have a shot. Malcolm telling me, ‘shoot the ball, shoot the ball’. And I just took that, and I played off that.”

Coach John Groce was pleased by his team's ability to come back from a 12 point deficit in the second half, to force the game into overtime.

“When you give up ten or more three’s, you’re usually going to get beat,” said Groce. “We almost pulled it off. That, and I thought our turnovers, to start the second half. I thought we have four of the 14 there in the span of about three minutes. And we were just a little careless. Some of the guys were a little careless there, and we can’t afford to do that for that stretch. But I’m really proud of the way we played from 53:43 to the rest of the game. I thought that was good.”

The Illini finish the regular season with a 5-13 Big Ten conference record, 13-18 overall. Penn State finishes the regular season at 16-15, with a 7-11 conference record.

12-seeded Illinois will face 13-seed Minnesota in Game One of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. Tip time is 3:30 p.m. Central Time, Wednesday afternoon. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

Story source: WILL