Illini Men Blown Out By Penn State 74-52

Leron Black connects on a three-pointer in a 74-52 loss to Penn State Sunday evening.

Leron Black connects on a three-pointer in a 74-52 loss to Penn State Sunday evening.

Rob McColley/for Illinois Public Media

The Illini men lost 74-52 to Penn State last night in Champaign. 

All five starters tallied double-figures for the Nittany Lions, led by Shep Garner with 16 points. Tony Carr added 15, and a game-high 6 assists.

For Illinois, it was another second-half collapse. The Illini led for most of the first half, gave up 5 points in the last six seconds before halftime, then failed to score for the first seven minutes of the second half.

By contrast, Illini coach Brad Underwood said Penn State kept competing throughout the game, even when they were comfortably in control. 

"It's amazing. They're sitting on the free throw line, 16-point game, and they're still talking about matchups," Underwood said. "And they're almost fighting about who's going to guard Trent (Frazier). That's competing. Quiet teams lose."

Illinois out-rebounded the Nittany Lions 18-9 in the first half. In the second half, the tally was 19-12 in favor of Penn State. Underwood said rebounding is a matter of will.

"I don't worry about missed shots. I can't control them," he said. "What I should be able to control is the effort with which guys go to the glass. We were good in the first half."

Illini Leron Black fights to retrieve a ball stolen by Penn State's Josh Reaves

Photo Credit: Rob McColley/Illinois Public Media

The lone bright-spot for Illinois was red-shirt junior Leron Black, who scored a game-high 18 points, and grabbed six rebounds.

Black said Penn State's pressing defense prevented Illinois from effectively running its offense.

"We've got to get in the spread quicker," Black said. "When they were sitting in that little press they were in, by the time we got the ball across half court, there were ten seconds left on the (shot) clock, so we really didn't have much time to run the spread."

Underwood marveled at Black's effectiveness, despite the inability of the Illini offense to draw defenders toward the perimeter.  

"Leron had an unbelievable 18 (points) today," he said, "because every time I turned around, there were so many people hovering around him in the paint."

Penn State is now 18-9 overall, and 8-6 in the Big Ten.  Underwood described them as "an NCAA (tournament) team." 

It's been a long climb for PSU coach Pat Chambers, whose first victory against Illinois was a major talking-point in Bruce Weber's final season as Illini coach. Weber was fired after that season, in March 2012. But Chambers has never led the Nittany Lions to either the NCAA Tournament, nor the NIT.

In his seventh season at Penn State, Chambers finally sees a postseason berth on the horizon. He said Illinois will get there too, but not necessarily soon.

"Brad's going to get it done. There's no doubt in my mind," Chambers said. "You've just got to be patient. He's going to get players, you know that. You know, it's not going to happen overnight. It just doesn't. It's not the way it works anymore with transfers and how recruiting is now."

The Illini drop to 2-11 in conference, and 12-14 overall. They return to action on Valentine's Day at Indiana. That game tips at 7:30 pm, CT.

Story source: WILL