Well, that'll get 'em talking.
Penn State's 57-55 upset win against No. 16 Illinois Tuesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center wasn't only important in the context of this season, it was of historic significance for the program.
Not since the 1954 Penn State squad went to the Final Four had Penn State won back-to-back games against ranked opponents until it defeated then No. 19 Michigan State on Saturday and Illinois on Tuesday.
Without Talor Battle and Andrew Jones, it might not have been possible, either. The pair combined to scored 38 of the team's 55 points, the two most important coming in the final second after Jones tip slammed home a Talor Battle miss to give it its winning score with only .7 remaining.
And just like that, a season that seemed hopelessly wrecked only a week ago is now back on track for the moment. The Lions still have a lot of tests left, not the least of which include a trip to No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday, but with two signature wins and a winning conference record in a league where that means quite a bit, the Lions are now positioned again for a run at their goal of appearing in the NCAA Tournament. Penn State is playing its best basketball of the season at the right time.
Time to put that loss to Maine in the rear view mirror.
- Penn State out rebounded its opponent again, 33-28 and 10-4 on the offensive glass. Rebounding is going to be a recurring theme in this team's success, especially against bigger teams like Michigan State and Illinois. Special hat tip in this area to Tim Frazier who grabbed eight rebounds at the guard position. Tough to do, but he did it, and Penn State is certainly better for it.
- Talor Battle was vintage on Tuesday night. He hit two unbelievably deep threes, one with a foot on the halfcourt logo as the shot clock was winding down. Truly special stuff we're seeing from that player right now. Enjoy it, even at a school like Penn State where the bar for greatness is set pretty low, Battle is a once-in-a-generation kind of guy. He must be treasured while he's still in Happy Valley.
- Can't say enough about Andrew Jones, either. He had been an enigma early in the season but has really coming alive offensively lately. His 12 points against Illinois are well above his season average of below six, so his scoring has certainly been game changing for Penn State.
- 14-14 from the foul line and only 10 turnovers. Two quiet, but very key stats.
- Demetri McCamey was a dangerous weapon and Penn State really contained him in round one, forcing Mike Tisdale to do a lot of the damage.
- It's too early to start getting legitimately excited about a run at March Madness, but if you're looking for an excuse to talk about it...this is it.
- As much as you'd like to say Penn State's defense has improved from the arc the last couple of games, the truth is, opponents just aren't making shots right now. The balls are bouncing Penn State's way, but it's important for the players to realize that and continue working to improve how they guard the arc. Illinois ran double high screens endlessly late in the game for sharpshooter, clearly so confident that if the Fighting Illini could hit a three that they didn't concern themselves with getting easy twos to extend the game. it was a risky strategy and it backfired on Illinois, but just the fact that they were willing to try it should tell you why Penn State must continue to play well on the perimeter.
- Before people get too excited, Penn State still has to face two top-10 teams in the next week. It could be right back to realty very quickly for basketball fans.
- Jermaine Marshall finally had a quiet night, missing a few shots and not scoring any points. Illinois is tough, and its understandable why he would have trouble putting up big numbers, but it might have been nice to see a little more storming for him.
- I've always felt that no self-respecting fan base should ever storm the court after an upset. Fortunately for Penn State, self respect isn't really an issue its familiar with in basketball, so the students can do about anything they want as far as I'm concerned. But Illinois? Really? Penn State kinda owns Illinois lately. Not sure why the Illini are still storm worthy.
- The weather was really tough, but the fans fought through to get into the game for a decent crowd.
From Hail To Orange:
Is it worse to be surprised by a let down loss, at the hands of one of the most exciting and murdersome players in Big Ten history, or is worse to have seen in coming from miles away, and been unable to stop it, screaming and flailing like a Cassandra in your living room. I think I can safely say it is worse to be the latter.
This is why Talor Battle is the most fearsome player in college basketball, bar none. This is why I hate playing against him. (In the last three games, Battle is averaging 18 points against the Illini.) I cannot begin to describe the appreciation/dread I have for his game, it is wicked.