Despite history dictating otherwise, Penn State needed the team that put up 47 first-half points against Michigan State on New Year's Eve to show up against Illinois. Instead, it was a continuation of the meager offensive performance that saw the Nittany Lions produce just 16 points in the second half against Sparty. PSU was pretty hapless once again on Saturday, shooting a season low 30% from the floor en route to a 20-point defeat in Champaign. Tim Frazier's struggles continued with a 10-point, one-assist effort. John Johnson provided much of the offense, going for 18 on 6-11 shooting before fouling out late.
The game provided some controversy as D.J. Newbill and Illinois freshman Kendrick Nunn were involved in a second half altercation which led to the Penn Stater's ejection. Nunn finished off a layup and lowered his shoulder into Newbill on his way back to the defensive end and Newbill took exception, and open-palm-shoved Nunn in the back of the head (GIF, courtesy Ben Jones). Benches cleared and Newbill was ejected with 8:38 left in the game. Nunn was not disciplined. It was a seven-point game at that point, but the incident gave the Illini all the fuel they needed to blow the game open.
Four Factors Analysis
It was just a two point game at the end of a sluggish first half from both sides, but Illinois' tenacious defending was too much for the Lions in the end. Penn State's frontcourt couldn't get anything going on the inside, finding the sledding tough against Illini shotblocker Nnanna Egwu, who finished with three blocks and altered many more. John Groce's team was especially dominant after Newbill's ejection, blowing the game open despite Johnson's best efforts.
Player of the Game
Johnson's shot selection makes you wince at times, but there's no denying the ability he possesses. None of his four made three-pointers were what you would call "open looks," but his quick release rendered Illinois defenders moot. He doesn't add much other than scoring at this point (1 reb, 1 ast), but for a team that's struggling to find its footing in B1G play so far, the Nittany Lions will need all the points they can get.
- B-Titty struggles - After a team-high 18 points against MSU, Brandon Taylor seemed to have a case of the yips on Saturday. He fumbled the ball countless times and did this. Taylor is an important piece for Penn State, and if he doesn't make an early shot his confidence seems to take a hit. I would look to see Pat Chambers try to get him an early look against Minnesota.
- J-Dick shines - He didn't play a ton of minutes, but Jordan Dickerson was immense when he saw the floor. The seven-footer actually hit a transition jumper from just inside the foul line to help spark a late first half run and made a more expected impact on the defensive end, blocking or altering numerous shots. Chambers doesn't totally trust him yet, but he may have earned some extra minutes on Wednesday night.
- Leadership crisis? - It's something that can be addressed, unlike the problems that cursed last year's team, but Penn State's response to the Newbill incident was a little troubling. Granted, you'd expect to see a positive reaction from the team that didn't lose their leading scorer, but I thought the tussle might light a fire under some PSU asses. Instead, they folded and went -13 the rest of the way. I don't know who is to blame between Chambers or Frazier or, y'know, the guy who got himself ejected, but it's gotta be fixed if this team is going to return to its Barclays Center Classic heights.
Penn State will host Minnesota on Wednesday night at the BJC. The Gophers will face Purdue on Sunday before they make the trip to Happy Valley, so get your scout on. More on Richard Pitino and crew on Tuesday. Enjoy your coaching search in the meantime.