The weather outside the State Farm Center was cold and a blanket of snow surrounded the arena, but the Fighting Illini seemed determined from the opening tip to heat the crowd up inside with its brand of solid defense and rim attacking style offense. At the end of the day, Illinois ended up improving it’s overall record to 13-2, 2-0 in the Big Ten, with a 75-55 win over the visiting Penn State Nittany Lions.
Penn State entered the game with the highest scoring backcourt duo in the country, but Illinois’ stifling defense held them to a combined 17 points. Prior to his ejection for a punch/shove towards the head of Kendrick Nunn with 8:38 left in the second half, D.J. Newbill was held to 7 points on the contest. It was his lowest output of the season and the first time he hasn’t registered double digits all season long. His backcourt running mate, Tim Frazier, was held to 10 points on 3-11 shooting (4-4 from the free throw line). Frazier also entered the contest as the league’s leader in assists per game (7.3 apg), but he only finished with 1 assist.
This game wasn’t just about stopping these two Nittany Lion standouts though. It was a total team effort from Illinois today. The Illini held the Penn State offense to 29.8% from the floor including 26.3% from 3 point land. The Illini also forced 11 Penn State turnovers, and Nnanna Egwu continued to be a defensive deterrent on the interior while registering 3 blocks.
Offensively, Illinois had 4 of it’s 5 starters in double figures with Rayvonte Rice leading the way once again with 15 points. Tracy Abrams added 12 points, all in the second half, and Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey each added 11 points. Malcolm Hill finally broke his silence today as well, registering 8 points in 18 minutes.
If you had a chance to check out my preview, you’ll know that one of my keys to the game today was winning the battle of the boards. Coming in to this game, Illinois had been out-rebounded in 6 of it’s past 7 games. Well, the Illini finally stepped up on the glass by winning the battle of the boards 44-33. It was a total team effort with Nnanna Egwu and Ekey both leading the way with 8 rebounds a piece. Bertrand and Rice had 7 a piece, and Abrams rounded out the starters rebounding production with 6.
The Illini will return to action Wednesday night when they travel to Madison, Wisconsin to face off with the #4 Wisconsin Badgers at 8pm CST.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.