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Nittany Lions pull second straight upset, beats #16 Illini 57-55

Submitted by on January 12, 2011 – 12:40 amOne Comment
Photo Credit: Brian Siegrist

It wasn’t supposed to happen.

Sure, Penn State was coming off an emotional 66-62 win over ranked nemesis Michigan State. But to pull off a second consecutive upset against another B1G title contender, now that’s just wishful thinking.

Except someone forgot to send Talor Battle and Andrew Jones the memo. The two connected on a putback basket with barely a second left in the game to clinch the upset for the Nittany Lions.

Coming into the game, the (13-3, 3-0) Fighting Illini were red hot, converting 65% from the field including 64% of their 3s in B1G play. Impressive numbers, yet pales in comparison to the 70.5% shooting performance that set a single-game school record against Northwestern just 6 days ago. It was clear the Lions would be tested defensively by one of the best shooting teams they will be facing all season.

Surprisingly Penn State limited the Illini offense that was shooting 64% in B1G play to just 41% for the game, but Penn State’s own offensive woes (35% shooting) kept Illinois in the game. Even as the two teams traded shot for shot in a game that featured 5 ties and 3 lead changes, the Nittany Lions never backed down, not when the Illini wiped out a 12 point lead in the first half, nor following Bill Cole’s layup to tie the game with 20 seconds left. Most teams wilt under the pressure. But Talor Battle has been in this situation before, he actually thrives on it. A mere 3 days earlier against #18 Michigan State, Battle asked for the ball with Penn State up by 1 and less than a minute to go. It didn’t matter that the senior star was just 2-13 from the field by that point, Battle knew he would make the play. With time running down, and the good guys up by 1, Talor Battle scored on an off-balance jumper that gave the Nittany Lions the 3 point lead they needed to put the Spartans away.

Tonight was no different. Although the Illini fought back to tie the game at 55 with 22 seconds left, Penn State remained surprisingly calm. In fact, Ed DeChellis didn’t even call a timeout following Bill Cole’s game-tying layup. Talor Battle simply dribbled the ball down the court for another off-balanced attempt at the game winning shot. Except it took the help of fellow teammate Andrew Jones tonight. Battle’s shot bounced off the rim into the hands of Andrew Jones who slammed the ball into the basket for the game clinching score with just 0.7 seconds remaining. Even Illinois’ desperation heave downcourt was intercepted by the 6’10″ senior forward. Game, set, match.

And just like it took a team effort (4 different players scored 10+ points) to knock off the Spartans 3 days ago, it took a tremendous defensive performance by Andrew Jones (12 points, 8 rebounds including the game clinching rebound and dunk), Jeff Brooks (10 rebounds) and Tim Frazier (8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals) to upset the Illini. Jones (8), Brooks (10) and Frazier (8) helped the Lions out rebound the Illinois’ size 33-27 increasing the Nittany Lions record to 8-1 this season when it wins the rebounding edge. Battle also recovered from a shooting slump against the Spartans to finished 8 of 15 from the field and 4 of 9 from 3-point territory including his jaw dropping 3 pointer from 35 feet tonight. The 15 turnovers by the Illini, including 9 in the first half didn’t hurt either.

This win marks the 8th time in the last 11 games that a Penn State / Illinois game was decided by 5 points or less, 5th on shots in the final seconds. In fact, 4 of the past 6 prior meetings were decided by a single point. So shame on those who were in town and chose not to attend the game. It was also THON night, and all student ticket sales went towards the Four Diamonds Fund.

The celebration will be short lived though. Penn State will barely have any time to enjoy the program’s first consecutive upset of ranked teams since the 1954 NCAA tournament (No. 14 LSU and No. 6 Notre Dame) with undefeated and #2 ranked Ohio State scheduled for Saturday.

Let’s just hope the Lions are up to the challenge.

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  • Darren216

    Great win for the Nitts! As long as Jones doesn’t disappear after last nights game, this squad has a good shot against a majority of the Big Ten. Though I just don’t see an Ohio State upset happening, I’d be more than happy to be proven wrong.