Lions Lose Game, Brooks at Illinois

A difficult trip went from bad to worse when Penn State lost its leading rebounder and shot-blocker to injury. It is not clear how much time Brooks will miss.

After literally going the extra mile to get to Illinois for Tuesday night's game, Penn State was snowed under in a 68-51 defeat at the hands of the Illini.

But that was not the worst of it for the Nittany Lions.

Late in the first half, starting forward Jeff Brooks left the game with a dislocated right shoulder and did not return. He spent the second half on the bench with his right (shooting) arm in a sling.

Brooks, State's second-leading scorer, top rebounder and top shot-blocker, will have tests to determine the extent of the injury when the Lions get back to Happy Valley -- whenever that may be.

“He had a dislocated shoulder, it came out, but we're not going to know the extent of it until we get it X-rayed,” PSU coach Ed DeChellis said.

Penn State (12-9, 5-5) was flat at the start of this one, which was hardly surprising considering what the Nittany Lions endured just to get to Champaign. Their charter flight took off from University Park Airport Monday afternoon but, thanks to the snowstorm blanketing the Midwest, they were forced to land in Evansville, Ind., and spend the night there.

So the team made a five-hour bus ride to Champaign Tuesday.

They ran into an Illini bunch (15-7, 5-4) who were sizzling on a night when the storm resulted in there being more empty than full seats in Assembly Hall. Illinois raced out to a 29-14 lead by dominating the paint.

“(There was) no activity, no energy level,” DeChellis said. “Not that the guys didn't want to. We just didn't have that.”

“There's no excuse,” added guard Talor Battle. “But it's a tough trip, it's tough on your legs.”

The Lions settled down defensively and, behind Brooks and Battle, climbed within 33-28.

But then, on an Illinois possession with a minute and a half left in the period, Brooks had contact with Illini center Mike Tisdale and fell to a knee. He had to be helped from the floor with a trainer holding his arm.

Down 36-28 at the half, Penn State actually kept things interesting for a while. It trailed 42-36 when center Andrew Jones scored inside with 13:36 left in the game.

But the Illini went on a 10-3 run -- much of it against a PSU lineup that included struggling reserve Billy Oliver and 6-foot-5 walk-on Steve Kirkpatrick on the front line -- to go up 52-39.

And Penn State couldn't get close the rest of the way.

The Lions, who had outrebounded their last seven opponents, saw the Illini build a 38-28 advantage on the glass in this one. Forward Mike Davis led the way for Illinois, scoring a game-high 22 points, most of them on dunks.

That may have been where the loss of Brooks hurt most.

“It affected us because we had no answer for Mike Davis,” DeChellis said. “He's a big, long senior who is 6-8 and Jeff matches up with him very well.”

But defense wasn't the only issue for PSU. Battle, the Big Ten's second-leading scorer, was held to 12 points. Starting forward David Jackson was 1 of 6 from the floor for four points. Oliver was 2 of 6 off the bench and missed four wide-open 3-point tries.

“We couldn't rebound the basketball tonight and we couldn't shoot, and that's a huge problem,” DeChellis said.

Due to the weather, it was not clear when Penn State would be able to travel back to University Park. Fortunately for the Lions, their next game is not until a Sunday home encounter with Michigan.

See the box score here:

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