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Penn State Downs Illinois

AP Photo/Darrell Hoemann
Penn State 68
Illinois 64

Here is the Boxscore (.pdf file)

We fell down by nine points early on the road in one of the most hostile environments the Big Ten can offer. We shot 36% from the field. Geary Claxton had an off game. And we won.

This is a huge win for Penn State. It's the biggest win of the season. Certainly the biggest win in the two year history of this blog. It's the biggest win for the basketball program since...well...the last time we beat Illinois in Champaign.

The Illini came out of the gate quickly and took an early nine point lead. The crowd that looked like a deer hunter convention with all the orange was bouncing off the roof. In years past it would have been an early warning sign of a 30-point blowout on our hands. But today I saw something I hadn't seen from this team in a decade. Today I saw poise. I saw composure. I saw confidence. They didn't get rattled. Ed called a timeout or two to slow things down, but for the most part they played through it. They weathered the early storm, and then they started to chip away at the Illinois lead. Nine points became seven. Seven became four. Four became two. And then with two minutes to go in the first half the Nittany Lions took their first lead of the game and went into the locker room tied at the half.

They came out after the break just like they went in. They took a two point lead. Then two became four. Four became five. Then six. About midway through the Illini tried to make a run with a fast break and a three pulling within one point. Last year this team would have handled this by standing around watching Geary Claxton dribble into triple teams with a look on their face that said, "Help us." But this team didn't panic. They called a timeout and regrouped. Coming out of the timeout Mike Walker found David Jackson all alone under the basket on a pretty pass from the top of the key. Then they pushed the lead back up to six points. And though Penn State once again blew some key foul shots down the stretch and Illinois made things interesting with some three point shots in the final seconds, they stuck together and escaped Assembly Hall with their second straight road win.

No doubt this is a big win, but it's the way they won that was really impressive. If Claxton had scored 40 points I think I would be concerned about his team because that's not something you can count on every night. But like I said earlier, Claxton had an off night. Illinois was focused on denying him the ball no matter where he was on the court. He only got off 11 shots in the game, and with the defense collapsing on him whenever he got it he only made three baskets and finished with 11 points. Last year this would have meant disaster. But this year we got nine points from Talor Battle, eight points from David Jackson, six points from Stanley Pringle. Hell, even Brandon Hassell pitched in with five points and six rebounds. In all we got 22 points and 16 rebounds from the bench. When combined with the usual hard earned 18 points and 12 rebounds from Cornley we had a total team effort.

But what really won this game was hustle. Penn State had it today. Illinois didn't. It was most evident in rebounds. The Lions outrebounded the Illini 49-24 with a 22-7 advantage in offensive rebounds. That's why Penn State won the game despite only shooting 36.4% from the field for the game as compared to 45.5% for Illinois. Claxton and Cornley each recorded their second straight double double. Is there a better front court in the Big Ten right now?

Before we go on, I have a gripe. Where were the Penn State students at? If they were there I didn't see them on television. I layed down the gauntlet last year after Illinois pulled their little stunt at the Jordan Center. Apparently our students were not up to the challenge. Oh well. Who's laughing now, Krush?

I'm really savoring this win right now. Let's take a moment to just examine the current Big Ten standings, shall we?

Current Big Ten Standings
Team Conference Record Overall Record
Wisconsin 2 - 0 12 - 2
Ohio State 2 - 0 10 - 3
Penn State 2 - 0 10 - 4
Michigan State 1 - 0 13 - 1
Indiana 1 - 0 12 - 1
Purdue 1 - 0 10 - 4
Minnesota 0 - 1 10 - 3
Illinois 0 - 2 8 - 7
Iowa 0 - 2 7 - 8
Northwestern 0 - 2 5 - 6
Michigan 0 - 2 4 - 10

I know it's early and I shouldn't get excited, but man that looks good. It sure looks better than being at the bottom where we usually find ourselves after the first two conference games. And remember that both wins are on the road. I'm more excited about this basketball team than I have been in a decade. We get another chance to prove ourselves next Saturday when Tubby Smith and the Minnesota Golden Gophers come to the Jordan Center. Minnesota is 10-3 overall with an 0-1 conference record after a 59-65 loss to Michigan State. I've got a couple tickets to the game (Thanks Santa!) so I'll be making the trek up to State College this weekend to see the men in action for the first time this season. You can expect a full report on the trip when I get back.

Go State Wo0t!!!!1!!