I wasn't in London for the Blitz, but I imagine it felt something like Penn State Basketball 2010: A devastating night, a few days of sifting through the rubble and hoping things will turn around, then another devastating night.
Unfortunately for Penn State, the point of no return is quickly approaching after losing to Illinois 54-53 in Champaign Tuesday night. The Lions now sit at 0-4 in the Big Ten, 8-8 overall, and are now in doubt of even making the NIT, let alone the NCAA tournament.
Chris Babb, who led Penn State with 15 points and 10 rebounds, tried to carry the team on a night when Talor Battle shot an uncharacteristically bad 4-19 (21%) from the field, and failed to get into any type of a rhythm in the second half. Demetri McCamey scored 25 points for Illinois on 9-17 shooting (5-6 from 3) and Mike Tisdale posted a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds to highlight the Illini victory.
Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones were replaced in the starting lineup by Andrew Ott and Tim Frazier, in a move coach Ed Dechellis was clearly hoping would light a fire under his players. Both Frazier and Ott, however, had rather unremarkable evenings, and Frazier played sparingly in the second half behind fellow freshman Bill Edwards.
Penn State held a narrow lead for much of the second half until McCamey hit a long 2-point field goal off a pick by Tisdale to put the Illinion top by one with a little over one minute to play. The Lions failed to score after two chances on the ensuing possession following a timeout, and fouled to put Tisdale on the line with 17 seconds to play. Tisdale, however, missed the front end of the 1-and-1, giving Penn State a final chance. On the last possession, Battle had a shot blocked out of bounds by Tisdale with 3.5 seconds left, and came up short on a final thee point attempt as time expired.
The Lions' half court sets again struggled. The offense came mostly from three point shooting (Led by Babb's 4-10 from downtown) and transition opportunities. Whatever lack of post game Penn State had with Brooks and Jones was exploited 10 fold Tuesday night without them, as Bill Edwards and Ott's seven points each led the forwards.
Defensively, however, Penn State played a pretty solid game, limiting the Illini to only 54 points on 38% shooting and four offensive rebounds. Granted, the Illini suffered and eight plus minute drought to end the first half, but the effort by Penn State in its own end was rather workman like in a season where such efforts have been rare.
So what now for Penn State?
The Lions travel to 6-11 Iowa on Saturday before hosting 7-8 Indiana next Thursday at the Jordan Center. At this point, both games are pretty much must-wins if this team has any postseason aspirations beyond hacking up the White Course. The team plays only two of its next six at home, and that stretch includes trips to Wisconsin, Purdue, and Ohio St.
Defensively, Penn State didn't look bad at all Tuesday night. The bad help defense that doomed this team several times early in the season was mitigated for the most part against Illinois. Save for a rather sloppy sequence by Battle and Babb before the final media timeout, it was one of the most complete efforts the Nittany Lions have put together in their own end all season.
Ott and Frazier played solid games in place of Brooks and Jones, which is good. Neither Ott nor Frazier, however, are capable of some of the things Brooks and Jones can do at this point, and if Ed is planning on keeping Tuesday night's lineup together, things could get ugly fast (if they haven't already).
Chris Babb seemed to be the only Penn State player who brought any energy to the floor tonight. His streaky shooting, and lack of an inside game we painfully obvious again, however, his 10 rebounds as well as five offensive boards showed he at least battled much of the night.
Cammeron Woodyard was very solid in his limited minutes, shooting 2-3 from three for six points.
Where was David Jackson? On a night when two of his fellow junior starters were benched by the coach, Jackson turned in a wholly uninspiring 1-5 shooting performance in 33 minutes. On a team full of inconsistent players, Jackson has been the ultimate example of feast or famine, and yet, at least last night managed to hold onto his job.
While the defensive effort overall was very good for Penn State, the team allowed the ball to stay in McCamey's and far to often. The pair combined for 41 of Illinois's 54 points. With players like Purdue's Robbie Hummel and Ohio State's Evan Turner fast approaching on the schedule, the Lions have to do a better job of making opponents' 3rd and 4th options work on offense.
Talor Battle had a brutal night against the Illini. Forced shots, lazy defensive routes late, and a failure to generate points from the free throw line combined to make this one of his worst games of the year when even a mediocre performance would have gone a long way toward a Penn State win. Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot Battle can do about his teammates waiting for a bus in the half court, but nevertheless, it was an rough evening for #12.
The post game is just non-existent. Penn State won't survive with Ott starting and Jones, Jackson, and Brooks underperforming. That trio needs to begin generating something underneathth to take some of the pressure of Battle.