Making clutch shots is the real key.
I told the guys afterward, I thought Illinois made timely shots and we missed timely shots, Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said after watching his team (8-12, 0-8) lose for the eighth straight time.
It really was that simple.
Sure, some interesting stuff unfolded before and after what turned out to be the most critical part of the game. But in a long stretch in the second half where the Lions had a chance to position themselves for their first league win of the year, they launched brick after brick.
I think missing shots can be contagious sometimes, junior forward David Jackson said.
Making them can be contagious, too, and that's what happened to the Lions early in the second half. Trailing 40-33 at the break, they made 5 of 7 field-goal attempts to go ahead 46-44 and then added a few free throws and an Andrew Jones stick-back to lead 51-48 with 9:59 left.
Then they missed six straight shots and 10 of their next 11. By the time Jackson made a 3-pointer with 1:47 left, PSU was down 64-57 and in no position to recover.
Sophomore guard Chris Babb's effort during the stretch epitomized the Lions' struggles. On the night, he was a solid 6 of 12 from the floor and 4 of 10 from the arc for 18 points.
But three of his errant triples were during the dry spell, including two in a row (the second off an offensive rebound) when Illinois had a 55-51 lead.
I just missed them, Babb said. They were good looks. They were getting me the ball. They just weren't going in.
It wasn't like he was alone, though. Leading scorer Talor Battle finished with a team-high 20 but was 0 of 4 as the game slipped away, including a missed layup. Forward Jeff Brooks missed two jumpers in a minute and a half, part of a 1-of-5 showing on the night.
The Illini, meanwhile, ended their three-game losing streak by making shots and stops when it mattered. Five different players reached doubles for Bruce Weber's team (13-8, 5-3): D.J. Richardson (20), Bill Cole (a career-high 12), Mike Davis (11), Mike Tisdale (10) and Brandon Paul (10).
Leading scorer Demetri McCamey came into the game needing 15 points to reach 1,000 for his career. But he was held to seven and made only 1 of 7 field goal attempts.
But, in keeping with the theme of the game, he drilled one that mattered. Up 61-54 and with the Lions still showing a bit of life, the Illini worked the shot clock under five seconds.
McCamey forced a buzzer-beating bomb that found the bottom of the net for a 64-54 lead with 2:00 left. And Penn State was well on its way to another loss in a game it had a chance to win.
DeChellis was at a loss to explain why the key shots are not falling for his club. But he had plenty to say about the mind-set of the program.
Guys are mad and disappointed, he said. And they should be disappointed; I want them mad. If you're not mad and disappointed, you're not a competitor.
After being held to 64 or fewer points in five straight games, the Lions have now scored 71 and 67 in their last two.
Jackson was also in doubles for PSU with 13.
The Lions were outrebounded for the first time in the Big Ten, 35-27.
After being swept in the season series in 2009, the Illini returned the favor this year.
Penn State is at Purdue Sunday in a game that tips at 3 p.m.LionLion