Patrick Chambers notched his first victory over a ranked team last night. I don't think any would've thought that would be possible this season just a few months ago. Although, the way Penn State has played Illinois the last 6 years, maybe it's not so surprising. This game just added to what has become a very entertaining series as of late. Looking back at the last 13 meetings, there have been so many memorable moments both good and bad. This game had plenty of them as well, but none were bigger than the final two possessions.
Tim Frazier had been quiet in the 2nd half until Penn State's final possession. With the game tied and shot clock running down, Tim came off a great ball screen from Jonathan Graham and quickly stop and popped the floater. The 10-footer hit nothing by nylon. A back-tracking Nnanna Egwu (in for a fouled-out Meyers Leonard) didn't stand a chance to contest the shot. However, eight seconds remained in the game. One more defensive stop was needed. It was delivered by Jermaine Marshall, who's emphatic block of Sam Maniscalco's feeble attempt to tie the game sealed the deal.
This was a win Penn State really needed to have. No, they likely aren't going to any post-season tournament, but the mood around these parts could've really soured when you look at PSU's future schedule (4 out of the next 5 are on the road). They were looking at a 9-game losing streak if they didn't get it done last night. But thanks to some tremendous defense and timely buckets, Penn State was able to spring their 5th straight upset of a ranked Illinois team.
It started out ugly as Illinois jumped out to a 17-9 lead in the first half. But Penn State stayed disciplined on defense and effectively switched to different looks that kept the Illini out of rhythm the rest of the game. The Lions did a nice job denying the ball to Leonard as much as possible. The big man finished with 15 on just 6-12 shooting with 3 turnovers. Brandon Paul hit some big shots down the stretch (20 points), but guys like DJ Richardson and Joe Bertrand were off their games. Richardson, a 40% 3-pt shooter, was just 2-7 from downtown, while Bertrand cooled off quite a bit from his hot stretch for just 4 points on 2-6 shooting.
Offensively, Penn State scrapped their way to 54 points, which is all that was needed for the victory. With Billy Oliver out of the game with the flu bug, the Lions attempted just 10 three-pointers (less than half of their season average of 21). The balanced attack was led by Cam Woodyard with 17 points on 6-10 shooting. He scored PSU's last 7 points before Tim Frazier's heroics on the game-winning 10-foot floater. Frazier didn't force it as much as he has been (12 points on 11 shots), and he was great setting up teammates with 9 assists. Also coming up big was Matt Glover, who realized how effective the offense can be if he actually participates in it, and Sasa Borovnjak. Glover set the tone at the start of the second half, giving PSU a nice 9 point lead that they never fully relinquished (although Illinois tied it with less than a minute to play). Borovnjak had a couple of fearless buckets against the future lottery-pick Leonard.
Next up for Penn State is back-to-back roadtrips to Indiana and Ohio State over the next week, but at least these guys stopped the recent bleeding and can feel good about themselves again. I feel good just watching them. Hopefully many of the students who took advantage of the free admission offer and dollar dog night come back to support this team. They deserve it.