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Penn State 74, Illinois 59: Lions Score Massive Road Upset

The Shrews Crew got a much-needed bounce-back win

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a tough loss in their Big Ten opener against a vulnerable Michigan State team, Penn State faced an even more daunting task in trying to get a big upset on the road against 17th-ranked Illinois. The same Illinois team that beat No. 2 Texas earlier in the week in the Jimmy V Classic.

It was a back-and-forth affair in the first half, with both teams lighting it up from the floor and exchanging leads countless times. After struggling mightily from three-point range against Michigan State, PSU opened up nailing five of their first seven from downtown (courtesy of Myles Dread, Andrew Funk, and even Evan Mahaffey) to keep the pressure on the Illini. Jalen Pickett in addition to scoring (he had 16 points at halftime), also dropped dimes like a kid at a fountain, constantly feeding teammates for open threes or backdoor cuts to the hoop to Seth Lundy (who also had double digits scoring at halftime) for an easy dunk. As a result, the Lions took a nine-point lead to the locker room at the half with a stunned home crowd looking on in silent disbelief.

The second half felt like a wild see-saw ride, with PSU pushing their lead up to 14 early at before going scoreless for five minutes straight while the Illini cut the lead down to five and had the home crowd making noise once again, only for Funk and Dread to catch fire again and nail a trio of treys push it back up to 14 in the course of a minute. The Lions continued to expand their lead up to as high as 19 and the Illini never got closer than within 12 points as PSU scored themselves a major road upset, one that could prove crucial come March.

Four Factors Analysis

The points per possession (PPP) and efficient field goal percentage (eFG%) stats tell it all. PSU shot 50 percent overall from the floor, including a sizzling 12-for-24 (50%) from three-point range. Four different Nittany Lions reached double digits in scoring, as well. More often than not, that’s going to get you a win, even against the best of the Big Ten teams.

Players of the Game

Andrew Funk - 20 points, 6-of-9 on 3 PT FG

The Funk Soul Brother, check it out now! When Penn State found themselves in a scoring funk (pun totally intended), Andrew pulled them out of it by hitting a timely shot. When he is feeling it, the whole team is much better off.

Jalen Pickett - 20 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists

Oh, you know, just another day at the office for Mr. Pickett...flirting with another triple-double. It’s great to see that his efforts were not in vain, unlike the other night against Michigan State.

Random Observations

  • Small Ball, Big Success - Micah Shrewsberry opted to go with a “small ball” lineup of Pickett-Cam Wynter-Funk-Lundy-Dread and it sure seemed to give Illinois problems, where they seemed to leave the middle of the paint wide open for someone to backdoor cut their way into for an easy layup/dunk (when PSU wasn’t busy nailing threes, of course). Perhaps this type of lineup could’ve led to a win over Sparty the other night, but it was great to see Shrews not be afraid to make a major shakeup after seeing a more traditional lineup get shredded.
  • Just When You Thought You Were Out.... Penn State Basketball has sucked you back into dreaming of seeing their name called on Selection Sunday in March. This team will have more days like today but also have some frustrating losses like a few nights ago. Best to just strap in and enjoy the wild rollercoaster ride that this Big Ten slate is likely to be. For the record: KenPom currently predicts PSU finishes 10-10 in conference play and 19-12 overall, which could very well put them on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bracket.

Up Next

Penn State (7-3, 1-1) gets an eight-day reprieve before facing Canisius on Sunday, December 18th at the BJC. Tipoff will be at Noon EST and will air on BTN.