Trips to Champaign always seem to take an awkward turn. Whether it was Penn State's 38-33 win over Illinois there two years ago or its 66-65 upset win in 2006 to end a long home win streak for the Fighting Illini, things never quite adhere to the script.
The Nittany Lions' 68-51 loss to Illinois Tuesday night was no exception. The team's charter was diverted to Evansville, Ind. Monday night due to bad weather and Penn State was forced to bus five hours from there early Tuesday. As if that wasn't bad enough, the Lions lost Jeff Brooks to a dislocated shoulder toward the end of the first half, right when they seemed to be gaining a little momentum after falling behind by as many as 15.
It was just a bridge too far for the night.
Talor Battle and Tim Frazier shared the team lead in points with 12 each. Frazier and Andrew Jones grabbed seven rebounds each to lead the Lions in that department. Mike Davis had a big night for the Illini with 22 points and seven boards of his own. D.J. Richardson and Bill Cole joined him in double figured.
All in all, it was simply an off night for the team. It happens in the game of basketball, especially in the Big Ten Conference and especially given the circumstances beyond the team's control it faced in this game. While it certainly doesn't help the Lions' NCAA Tournament resume any, it isn't particularly damaging, either. Time to regroup and get ready for Michigan.The Good
- Tim Frazier really stepped up in Brooks' absence. His performance was one of the lone bright spots in the game. If Brooks is to miss any significant time, Frazier will unquestionably need to carry more of the scoring load considering the dearth of talent on the bench, especially at forward. His 4-12 shooting performance was hardly desireably, but at least he was taking shots when the team needed him to. Nice step forward for him tonight.
- Andrew Jones fought through some foul trouble to have a reasonably productive evening with eight points and seven boards. He's another guy that will need to step up his game offensively if Brooks misses time and he wasn't too bad tonight.
- The Lions committed only six turnovers on the road. Not bad.
- Billy Oliver was 2-6 in Jones' stead, including 1-5 from 3-point territory. He didn't show much aggressiveness inside, either, grabbing only three rebounds in 22 minutes. It's clear he's not in the right role so it's not all his fault, but at the four spot, you've got to do more than jack threes and hope for the best. Here's hoping he starts looking at the basket a little more with Brooks injured.
- Cammeron Woodyard got a little time and was 1-4 from the field. He's shooting under 20% for the season. That's not going to get it done off the bench. He's a junior, and he hasn't really developed at all.
- Talor Battle and David Jackson both had poor nights. That's bad news for Penn State whether Brooks is in there or not, so the final score is no surprise.
- Watching Brooks go down with a dislocated shoulder for Penn State is painful for him and for everyone else, too. It's a nasty injury that, whether he returns this season or not, will follow him the rest of the season as it did Jamelle Cornley in 2009. If you're the Lions, you can't spend your time waiting for him to come back. Someone has to step up. So far, no one has shown they can. Bad situation.
- The whole weather fiasco, while not an excuse, was certainly a distinct disadvantage for Penn State. You hate to see whacky stuff like that influence such an important game.
- The Lions shot 33% from the field and 11% from the arc. Yikes.