Jones Slams Door on Illini

Penn State center's follow dunk helps the Lions beat a second-straight ranked opponent for the first time since 1954. Rebounding and defense are the keys to victory for PSU. Video highlights are included.

Penn State coach Ed DeChellis says he'll live with the occasional poor shooting night, provided his Nittany Lions play strong defense and rebound with gusto.

Defense and rebounding, he contends, can cover up many sins.

There's been no greater example than Tuesday's stunning victory over No. 16 Illinois at the Jordan Center, as Penn State made only 34.6 percent of it shots but compensated by holding the Illini to 22 points below their season average and by dominating the glass.

Center Andrew Jones' follow dunk of a Talor Battle miss with one second remaining proved the difference as Penn State won, 57-55. Following Saturday's win over then-No. 18 Michigan State, it marked the first time since 1954 the Lions beat back-to-back ranked foes.

<a href="" target="_new" title="Highlights: (16) Illinois - Penn State">Video: Highlights: (16) Illinois - Penn State</a>

“This is a great league,” DeChellis said of the Big Ten. “You have to be able to do those things (defend and rebound) if you're going to give yourself a chance. Now if you make shots, things are going to look good and be easier.”

Nothing was easy about this game. It was tied 25-25 at the break and neither team could get any breathing room. That's been the norm for this series, where four of the last six have been decided by a point.

Battle kept Penn State (10-6, 3-2) in it in the second half, scoring 17 of his game-high 26, including one shot from 30 feet and another from 27. So when Illinois forward Bill Cole tied it at 53-53 on a layup with 20 seconds left, there was little doubt who'd get the final shot.

The Lions opted against a timeout and instead went with a clear-out for Battle. After chewing clock he sliced around guard D.J. Richardson into the heart of the lane and spotted 7-foot-1 Illini center Mike Tisdale cheating over to help. That left Jones with a clear lane to the basket.

In a similar circumstance at Illinois last season, Tisdale blocked Battle's shot. This time was different.

“I shot a hook to get it on the glass because if the help guy comes there's a weak-side rebounder,” Battle said.

“When he goes to the bucket, he's going to have two or three defenders on him, that's the nature of the game,” Jones said. “Tisdale, I'm not sure why he left me, but he did. Talor got it up on the glass and I got it in.”

Illinois called timeout with a second left by its long inbound pass was intercepted by forward Jeff Brooks at the buzzer.

And for the second straight game the fans stormed the floor, even as PA man Jeff Brown urged them not to. This was State's first game held while classes were in session since a home loss to Virginia Tech Dec. 12, so the students were anxious to party.

“It was great seeing them run out there,” Battle said.

Though bad weather kept the overall crowd down (attendance was listed at 6,353), it was by far the best student turnout of the season. And they were into it from the start.

This even though the first half amounted to a wasted opportunity for the Nittany Lions, who opened with an 11-2 run and saw the lead grow to as much as 12 (25-13) when Brooks hit a corner 3-pointer with 5:53 remaining before the break.

Penn State did it by playing strong defense, pounding the glass and hitting a respectable 9 of 25 shots.

But the Illini woke up in the final five minutes, tightening up on defense (the Lions missed their last five shots and had a pair of turnovers) and getting aggressive on offense. Mike Davis' hook in the paint at the buzzer capped a 12-0 run that tied it at 25-25 at the break.

The Lions kept their cool to start the second half, even as their offense never hit its stride. Battle's heroics included hitting a shot-clock beating bomb from the midcourt circle that drew a gasp from the crowd and gave PSU a 42-40 lead with 12:01 remaining.

Battle's long bomb.

And because Penn State was playing strong defense and rebounding so well, the Illini could not find an offensive flow, either. They came in averaging better than 77 points per game.

“We didn't attack 'em,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “We weren't in sync.”

Tisdale led the Illini (13-4, 3-1) with 16 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks. But leading scorer Demetri McCamey was held in check, with 10 points and five turnovers. They were the only men on their team in doubles.

Penn State had just two double-figure scorers, too (Jones added 12). But Brooks had 10 rebounds. And guard Tim Frazier made up for a scoreless effort with eight rebounds, four assists and two steals. His late theft of a Tisdale pass for McCamey 25 feet from the basket cost the Illini a key possession.

“He affected the game without scoring a basket tonight,” DeChellis said.

This marked the first time Penn State beat consecutive ranked opponents since toppling No. 14 LSU and No. 6 Notre Dame in the '54 NCAA Tournament.

The Lions have little time to celebrate their big wins, though. In the midst of playing five consecutive ranked opponents, the next stop is at No. 2 Ohio State Saturday (5:30 p.m. tip, Big Ten Network).

“You can't look too far ahead or get too excited when you win two games,” DeChellis said. “It helps us, it's a confidence builder, but we have a long way to go.”

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