Illini Smoke PSU

Penn State took its shot at undefeated and unbeaten Illinois at the Jordan Center Wednesday night. With a strong home crowd, a bubbly student section that poured into the upper deck and a jam-packed press row all looking on, the Nittany Lions promptly fired a blank, losing 83-63.

"We had nothing to lose tonight, we had everything to gain," said freshman forward Geary Claxton, who paced PSU with 19 points and six rebounds. "Unfortunately, it didn't turn out that way."

Any hope of this being a repeat of the last time No. 1 visited Happy Valley -- Indiana's thrilling double-overtime win at Rec Hall in 1993 -- evaporated immediately, as the Illini opened with three uncontested shots and a 7-0 lead.

With three smart, veteran guards and a pair of savvy big men, Illinois (26-0, 12-0 Big Ten) moves the ball as well as anyone in the nation. Not that it had to in this one. While State (7-17, 1-10) attempted several different defensive sets Wednesday - straight man and 1-3-1 zone included -- there was no energy in any of them through the first 20 minutes.

"It was nonexistent," PSU coach Ed DeChellis said of his defense. "They got threes against our zone, and drove against our man. They got whatever they wanted. We had no answers."

"They had a lot of wide-open shots and layups," Claxton added. "We could have played harder and come out with a lot more intensity on defense."

Such is life for a team that has now lost six in a row and 11 of 12. Once they got down, the Lions had nothing. By the second media timeout, Illinois was essentially running layup lines and playing around the world.

Up 35-19 at 8:45 of the first half, the Illini had made 15 of 19 shots, with assists on an amazing 13 of those baskets. They had 16 points in the paint, and 15 more on 5-of-8 shooting from the arc.

Bruce Weber's crew knew the key was movement against the slow-footed Lions. He related what one of the players said during an early timeout.

"If we just keep moving the ball, sooner or later they're not going to get there and we're going to get an easy shot," Weber explained.

Led by Roger Powell's 8-for-8 showing, Illinois was 22 of 33 from the floor in the first half and led 52-30 at the break. Super quick guard Dee Brown had 10 assists through the first 20 minutes, as the Illini had 19 helpers on their 22 buckets.

"That's how basketball should look," Lion rookie guard Mike Walker said.

Claxton was the only Penn State player who performed at that level, going 8 of 15 from the floor and 3 of 4 from the line. Another positive was the home crowd, which somehow kept itself amused even as the deficit hit 30 points in the second half. When Claxton broke loose and tomahawked a dunk, the place erupted. The score was 74-46.

The same thing happen when seldom-used senior forward Kevin Fellows hit a 16-foot jumper (77-50) and when Walker lobbed an alley-oop jam to Claxton (77-52). The student section jokingly chanted "OVER-RATED," which caused more than a few smiles on the visiting bench.

"The support was amazing tonight," Walker said. "It's so great they were out there, even with the season we're having."

Unfortunately for Walker and his team, the Lions never came close to capturing the role of main attraction.


CROWD CONTROL: The crowd was listed at 10,966, which marked the second biggest showing of the year at the BJC (behind the 11,809 on hand for a Dec. 11 loss to Pitt).

GET IT STARTED: The Illini starters went 30 of 42 from the floor. The rest of the team was 4 of 19.

ED SAID: “I haven't been around a team that has so many offensive weapons.”

QUOTABLE: “Ten for ten is pretty good, I guess.” — Weber, on Powell's shooting effort in the game.

KEY STAT: Illinois has 27 assists in the game against only eight turnovers.

NEXT UP: Penn State travels to Northwestern Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. tip.


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