Penn State basketball is reeling but has a chance to temporarily stop the bleeding tonight against Illinois a the Bryce Jordan Center. Here are five things to know before the game.
PENN STATE NEEDS A WIN
Penn State has lost four in a row and five of its last six. So, yeah, its kind of important that the team starts winning.
In the past two weeks, Penn State has been blown out at then-No. 1 Purdue, beaten in Lincoln by a Nebraska team that’s 5-10 in the Big Ten, lost an overtime game to Wisconsin at home and didn’t have enough firepower to win at Maryland.
To get back on track tonight, Penn State will have to beat Illinois for the second time this season.
That won’t be easy.
THE FIRST TIME AROUND
Penn State had possibly its best showing of the season in its first meeting with Illinois. The team came into Champaign as a double-digit underdog and ended up beating the then-No. 17 Illini, 74-59.
Illinois is 12-2 at home, so that triumph was quite impressive for the “Shrews Crew.”
Penn State went 12-14 from 3-point land that day.
Andrew Funk went 6-9 from 3, ending with a nice 20 points. Jalen Pickett added 20. But Illinois has regrouped since then. The Illini are 17-7 overall and 8-5 in the Big Ten, a half game back of Northwestern and Indiana for second in the conference.
So, what players have been key in Illinois’ success?
Illinois is 8-3 since the New Year started. Coach Brad Underwood’s team is coming off a 69-60 win over then-No. 24 Rutgers. Illinois is third in the Big Ten in scoring average, sixth in defensive scoring average and second to mighty Purdue in average scoring margin at +11. Individually, Terrance Shannon Jr. leads the Illini, averaging nearly 17 points per game (sixth in the Big Ten.)
Penn State held him to four points over 26 minutes in the first meeting. Forwards Matthew Mayer (11.8 PPG) and Dain Dainja (10.3) are also key contributors. Dainja is fifth in the Big Ten in blocks.
BACK ON THE BUBBLE?
It’s mid-Feburary, which means everybody is talking about the NCAA Tournament. Who will be in? Who will be out? You get the picture. In two weeks, Penn State has gone from a projected tournament team to not even being considered for the dance, according to ESPN’s Bracketologist Joe Lunardi.
— Joe Lunardi (@ESPNLunardi) February 14, 2023
Penn State has seven games left, and little margin of error. As it stands, things aren’t looking good. But maybe, just maybe, beating Illinois for the second time this season is what the doctor ordered to get Penn State back in the NCAA Tournament picture.
HOW TO WATCH
Penn State basketball and Illinois are scheduled to tip-off at 7 on ESPNU. For those who won’t be attending the game, here’s more information on how to watch and listen.
TV Announcers: Kevin Brown (PXP), Jess Settles (color)
Radio: Penn State Sports Network
Radio Announcers: Steve Jones (PXP), Dick Jerardi (color)
SiriusXM: CH 135 or 195 (regular), 957 (app)