Remember how good life was as a Penn State hoops fan when the team entered February high off a blowout win at home against Michigan, squarely in the NCAA Tournament hunt, and looking at a more manageable slate of games following a road game at Purdue? Those sure were the days...Looming ahead for the Shrews Crew is a rematch against an Illinois team that has surged towards the top of the Big Ten standings, having won eight of their last ten games, including a 69-60 win over Rutgers this past weekend. Meanwhile, the Lions’ 0-for-February nightmare continues as they come off a loss at Maryland, their fourth in a row.
Last Time Out
A heavy road underdog, the Nittany Lions shocked the Illini with a 15-point win in Champaign back in December, thanks to hooting an astonishing 50 percent from the floor overall, as well as 50 percent from three-point range, knocking down 12 treys. All threes made except for one came from either Andrew Funk (six) and Myles Dread (five), as the Lions got their lead up to nine at halftime and were able to stave any real attempts at a run in the second half by the Illini.
One Illini player who the team will likely see a heavier dose of compared to the previous outing is forward Dain Dainja, who has since exploded for the Illini’s front court, providing over ten points and six rebounds per game. Dainja led the Illini with 15 points and seven boards in the win over Rutgers, and will be yet another big man that an undersized PSU squad will have to figure out how to prevent from dominating the game.
What To Watch For
Can PSU continue the hot shooting from home and replicate their performance from the first outing against Illini? More importantly, can they prevent some rando on the opposing team from completely going off on them, as has been seen one too many times during this losing skid? How will Kanye Clary follow up his performance in leading the team in scoring off the bench at Maryland (perhaps with a first career start)? If the answer to those first two questions is “Yes” and Kanye is able to handle the pressure of being more a bigger focal point for opponents, then the Nittany Lions may have a shot at dousing the flames on this February from hell.
I may very well look like an idiot later tonight, but I get a strange feeling about this one. Plus, it’s Valentine’s Day, so why not show a little love for the home team? Yes, Illinois has revenge on their minds, but this is a PSU team that everybody has written off at this point. The emergence of Clary, plus the generally much better shooting performance at home, and a better-than-usual defensive performance end up being just enough for the Lions to pull off the upset.
Penn State 73, Illinois 69