Penn State Nittany Lions (12-12, 3-8)
Last time out: L, 60-55 vs. Illinois on Sunday
Although Tim Frazier set a program record with 602 career assists Sunday afternoon at the Bryce Jordan Center, his Penn State team couldn't pull off the win, falling to Illinois 60-55 for the team's second loss in a row after winning three-straight. Frazier scored a game-high 19 points, along with the Fighting Illini's Kendrick Nunn.
The Nittany Lions came out of the gates hot, scoring in bunches to take a 16-7 lead just over six minutes into the action. Illinois responded with a run of its own to inch within a point, 16-15, before a run of its own just minutes later put the team ahead nine, 31-22. After a Penn State timeout, the Nittany Lions scored nine-straight to end the half knotted at 31-all.
D.J. Newbill scored his team's first five points out of the break to keep pace with Illinois early, and Brandon Taylor knocked down a 3-pointer that put Penn State ahead 39-38. After Illinois grabbed a four-point lead off of back-to-back 3-pointers, a 7-0 Penn State run would give the Nittany Lions a 52-49 lead, but it was the last lead they would hold.
Illinois finished the final 9:44 on an 11-3 run, including holding Penn State scoreless for 8:53 while Nunn knocked down a 3-pointer with 0:22 left and his teammates made 3-of-4 free throws in the closing seconds.
Record: 10-21 (2-16 in the Big Ten Conference)
The Nittany Lions struggled for much of the 2012-13 season without their star guard, Frazier, who was a preseason candidate for the Wooden and Naismith player of the year awards. In Penn State's fourth game of the season – the final game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off against Akron – Frazier ruptured his left Achilles tendon just five minutes into the action. The injury required surgery and took him out for the rest of the season.
After starting the season 2-2, the Nittany Lions finished their non-conference slate 8-4, including a four-game winning streak at the end, but many of these games were against less than stellar opponents.
Penn State would go on to lose 14-straight during Big Ten play, but the team's first win may have made up for all. They pulled off a win at home in the Bryce Jordan Center against then-No. 4 Michigan 84-78. The team's other conference win fell two games later on the road against Northwestern 66-59 for Penn State's only road win of the season.
The Nittany Lions met up with Michigan in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament and fell handily to the Wolverines 83-66 and didn't compete in any post-season tournaments afterwards.
What they do well:
The Nittany Lions statistically are one of the weaker teams in the Big Ten conference this season, sitting in last in the Big Ten standings at 3-8, but the team's backcourt could go toe-to-toe with some of the best in the country. Newbill and Frazier lead the team in scoring with 17.7 and 16.2 points respectively. The duo pose a much older, more experienced backcourt than anyone the Hoosiers can put on the court, and both have experience taking the leadership of the team head-on, after Newbill took the starting point guard role last season after Frazier tore his left Achilles in the fourth game of the season.
The duo, along with the rest of the Nittany Lions, excel in not turning the ball over as well, with the Hoosiers far in the bottom of that category this season. With the team's experience, they've pulled off conference wins against Nebraska, Ohio State and Purdue and lost three of their eight points by a total of seven points. Even as one of the conference's weakest teams, they've proven they can hang in with most of their conference foes, and their experience has allowed them to come out of the gates hot and gain a 15-point first half lead.
G D.J. Newbill, Jr.
After take the reigns of the team last season in Frazier's absence, Newbill has again emerged as the team's leading scorer as well as the conference's with 17.7 points per game. He's also excelling drawing fouls, making the second-most free throws this season in the conference, only behind Frazier.
Against the Hoosiers earlier this season, Newbill kept his team in the game, scoring a game-high 24 points on 7-of-16 shooting from the field, including three 3-pointers. He's had a slightly lower average during the Big Ten season, but in his biggest games – scoring 24 against IU and 25 in a victory at Ohio State – have also been some of his team's best games this season.
G Tim Frazier, Graduate
Even though he's given up his star role to Newbill after returning from his injury, Frazier has still kept up his impact, ranking eighth in the Big Ten this season with 16.2 points per game. Frazier has also turned into a big facilitator this season, leading the conference in assists with six, more than one ahead of second place, Michigan State's Keith Appling.