Penn State topped Illinois for a third time this season, opening the Big Ten tournament with a 79-76 victory on Thursday, reaching 20 wins and improving its chances to return to the NCAA Tournament next week.
The Nittany Lions survived icy foul shooting and Illinois scrapped for scores until the final buzzer only to see Penn State
Penn State created enough distance to survive with a 14-3 run late in the second half.
After Coleman Hawkins picked up a scramble loose ball for a Fighting Illini layup with 22 seconds left, Penn State made one of two free throws for a 76-70 lead. Guard Terrence Shannon missed the first of two free throws at the other end for Illinois with 15.8 seconds left, making it a two-possession game. Shannon’s 3 try after Penn State split another pair of free throws drew back iron, dashing faint hopes of extending the game.
Penn State was 13 of 22 from the free-throw line, and Jalen Pickett, who erupted for 41 points against Illinois in their Feb. 14 matchup, was limited to 12 points but had eight rebounds and eight assists. Pickett had only three points in the first half but Penn State built a lead as big as 10 points.
Andrew Funk made six 3-pointers and led the Nittany Lions with 20 points. Camren Wynter had 18 points and five rebounds, and Seth Lundy added 17 points and 10 boards.
Shannon led Illinois with 19 points. Hawkins was 8 of 14 from the field and had 17 points, adding five rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Sophomore big man Dain Dainja contributed 13 points and seven rebounds.
Illinois found success attacking inside in the first half, but couldn’t string together defensive stops.
The Nittany Lions are facing Northwestern in Chicagoland for the second time in nine days. Penn State knocked off the second-seeded Wildcats on Wynter’s last-second 3-pointer in overtime on March 1 in Evanston.
–Field Level Media