Illinois Stagnant At Home, Loses To PSU

Several records for futility were broken as the Penn State Nittany Lions eeked out a 38-33 win over the Illini at the Assembly Hall Wednesday. It was a hard fought game with much on the line, and both defenses played well. But neither team had much to brag about with their shooting.

Illinois lost its first Big 10 home game of the season, negating one of its recent road wins. And it came on a day everyone on both sides would like to forget. Among the records smashed on the night was the lowest winning total at the Assembly Hall, PSU's 38 points annihilating the former record of 51 set by Michigan in 1999 and Ohio State in 1982.

It was the lowest points Illinois has ever scored at the Hall, 11 points below their previous low. Thus, it was also the lowest combined point total by 14. It was the lowest combined shooting percentage at .292. Penn State tied the lowest field goals by an Illinois opponent with 13. And it was the first time ever at the Assembly Hall that the Illini failed to try a single free throw.

Penn State coach Ed DeChellis was pleased with the outcome, but he was shocked by the lack of scoring.

"I've never been involved in one like this. Ever. It's uncharted water. I kept looking up at the score for what half we were in. We set this back a few years. Naismith might have rolled over several times."

Illinois coach Bruce Weber was tremendously frustrated afterward and took the blame.

"There's not much to say, to be honest. Neither one of us had the offensive display you'd expect this time of the year. Some of it was their defense and our defense. They made some plays down the stretch.

"I didn't do a good enough job getting them ready, obviously. We tried a lot of different things, but we didn't have any answers. We just couldn't get any baskets, any plays to go for us."

Illinois missed some open looks early, but Penn State's defense became stronger and stronger as the game went on. By the end, the Illini offense was completely stagnant.

"Both teams played very good defense," DeChellis explained. "It was a well-scouted game on both ends. There weren't very many clean looks out there."

DeChellis was asked to explain how the Illini, after pushing out to a 29-20 lead with around 10 minutes left in the game, suddenly had trouble getting open looks.

"We tried to keep the ball in front of us. We didn't allow a lot of drives and kicks to (Mike) Tisdale and (Mike) Davis, who feed off the other guys' penetration. Our guards did a pretty good job of containing the ball and chasing those guys all around, getting in front of them when they came off the screens."

Weber blamed his team's inability to run its offense at the end on a lack of emotion and perhaps tiredness from having 3 games in 7 days with no days off.

"Not very good cutting. We didn't cut hard. They locked in on Trent (Meacham). I didn't think Demetri (McCamey) gave good movement. We didn't make the next play, whether it was the next pass or the next cut. We were very flat, not a lot of emotion.

"We had a lot of emotion last week, maybe we didn't have the emotion this week. We got it going, and the crowd got going second half. But we could never get enough plays. They defended us well.

"I told the coaches today, it would be interesting to see how we played. I don't think I ever could have anticipated this. It's a long season, you've got to keep an even keel. You steal a game at Northwestern, you hope you steal this one. They had their backs to the wall, and they found a way to win."

The free throw disparity was somewhat baffling to Weber, but he knows his team will never get fouled frequently.

"Yeah, first time ever at home. We didn't go strong to the basket. We didn't get it inside enough. In a couple timeouts, we said to get it inside, but we didn't do a good job of that. We're not gonna get a lot of free throws because we're a jump shooting team. They had nine free throws plus the two at the end, and we had none."

Penn State outscored Illinois 18-4 in the last ten minutes, and Talor Battle had a lot to do with it. Battle ended with just 11 points, but he is a clutch player who can drive and finish late in the game regardless of the opponent. When all else failed, DeChellis turned to Battle to bail him out.

"I have a sheet with 35 plays on it, and none of them were any good. So we just went high ball screen, put the ball in 12's (Battle's) hands and let him do something with it. We made a play here and there. I feel very fortunate to get out of here with a win."

Meacham and Chester Frazier were Illinois' leading scorers with 7 points apiece. Tisdale added 6. Penn State's bench outscored the Illini bench 13-4. The Illini seemed tired in the second half, and part of that was Weber's lack of trust in his bench play.

"Maybe we should have used Dominique (Keller) a little more, but he didn't seem to be in sync. Calvin (Brock) was 0 for 3 with 3 turnovers. Alex (Legion) missed his first three shots. They didn't give us a whole lot of confidence to play them. Jeffrey (Jordan) did a nice job again."

McCamey appeared to be at less than full strength, perhaps a continuation of his flu from before the Indiana game. Unfortunately, he also put up some forced shots rather than running offense.

"Demetri threw up at halftime," Weber said. "I thought he was better. He got a couple quick fouls, that didn't help. I just don't think he had the energy. We have a day off tomorrow and another on Monday. Hopefully, he'll be ready for the stretch run."

A discouraged Weber is less confident of a run for the Big 10 Championship with this loss. More important than that right now is avoiding a season ending slump that could hurt his team's chances for an NCAA bid.

"We've got our backs to the wall. We've got to go to Ohio State, and that won't be easy."

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