The Illinois Fighting Illini will play the Penn State Nittany Lions at Assembly Hall on Thursday.
The Fighting Illini defeated the Northwestern Wildcats, 62-41, in their last game. D.J. Richardson and Tracy Abrams were the only Illini in double-figures as they scored 18 and 13 points respectively. However, the Illinois defense held the Wildcats to just 25% from the field the entire game.
The Nittany Lions come into Thursday’s game with an overall record of 8-17 and a Big Ten record of 0-13. Penn State is currently on a 13-game losing streak and has not won a game since they beat Duquesne, 84-74, on December 29th, 2012. In their last game, they lost to the #4 Michigan Wolverines, 71-79.
Penn State has the second-worst scoring offense in the Big Ten. They are averaging 61.2 points per game so far this season.
However, they will be without their “leading scorer,” Tim Frazier. Frazier has been out with a season-ending Achilles injury since November 18th. Frazier was averaging 16.3 points per game before he went down.
The other two players that have taken over the PSU offense since have been D.J. Newbill, and Jermaine Marshall.
According to head coach John Groce, it all starts with Newbill and Marshall. In his press conference this week, Groce talked about what these guards can do to opposing defenses. He mentioned how Newbill and Marshall can drive the ball, put pressure on an opposing defense, and get to the foul line.
This season, Newbill is averaging 16.0 points per game while Marshall is averaging 14.8 points per game.
On the boards, Penn State is led by Ross Travis. He is averaging 7.1 rebounds per game so far this season. As a team, the Nittany Lions are ranked ninth in the Big Ten in rebounding (35.5 rebounds per game).
This will be 38th meeting between the Fighting Illini and the Nittany Lions. Illinois leads the series 24-13. At Assembly Hall, the Fighting Illini are 11-5 against PSU and have won the last to home meetings against them.
Illinois is arguably playing it’s best basketball of the season at this point. Head coach John Groce credited the team’s defense in his press conference on Wednesday.
Groce believes that this is the best his team has defended all year. However, he did say that the Fighting Illini could foul a little less, but in the end Groce said, “there’s a difference between playing defense and having a commitment to getting stops.” (Source: fightingillini.com)
One Illinois player that Groce spoke highly of was senior D.J. Richardson.
Richardson has stepped into a leadership role on this Fighting Illini team and has taken that leadership to a whole other level. John Groce mentioned that there have been times in practice when Richardson would say to redo a certain defensive drill because it was not “good enough.”
It’s that attention to detail that has Illinois on a four-game winning streak. They have a great opportunity to end the regular season strong going into the Big Ten Conference tournament. They just need to do what they have been doing in their last four game and translate what they do in practice to the games.
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