CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Two Big Ten games.
Two second-half collapses for Penn State.
Trailing by just two points at halftime, the Nittany Lions were outscored 47-29 in the final 20 minutes as Illinois rolled to a 75-55 victory in a chippy contest in which Penn State’s D.J. Newbill was ejected in the second half.
Throw in a conference-opening loss to Michigan State and the Nittany Lions have been outscored 86-45 in the second half of league games this season.
Certainly, the ejection of Newbill didn’t help. The league’s second-leading scorer with an 18.8-point average was tossed with 8:38 remaining. After freshman Kendrick Walker scored on a drive to put the Fighting Illini ahead 52-43, Walker bumped into Newbill while heading back upcourt. Newbill retaliated with a shove to the back of Nunn’s head. After video review, officials hit Newbill with a flagrant foul and ejected him from the game.
“I didn’t see it live,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. “I thought he got bumped, but I don’t even know what he did. I’ll have to watch it on film on the way home. But D.J. has to keep his composure. We need him out there. Without him, you see the way we played.”
John Ekey’s two free throws pushed the Illinois lead to 54-43 and Penn State never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way. Illinois ended the game with a 23-12 run.
The Nittany Lions shot a miserable 17 of 57 (29.8 percent) for the game and finished 25 points below its season scoring average.
“I thought our defensive disposition was really strong for 40 minutes,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “I thought we were really tough, really together. We were consistent with our rebounding effort as well. I thought our offense got going in the second half.”
The bright spot for the Nittany Lions (9-6 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) was the play of John Johnson. The transfer from Pittsburgh, appearing in just his third game with the Nittany Lions, led all scorers with 18 points. Johnson made 4-of-6 from 3-point distance while the rest of the Nittany Lions went 1-for-13.
Penn State couldn’t have started each half much worse.
In the first half, the Nittany Lions missed their first eight shots and fell behind 9-0. Penn State started 1-for-12 from the field.
Still, the Nittany Lions fought back to make it close at the break. Trailing 28-17 with just under 3 1/2 minutes left in the half, Penn State drew within a bucket on a 9-0 run. Newbill had four points and Johnson nailed a 3-pointer during the outburst.
Penn State would start cold again in the second half, going 0-for-7. Illinois (13-2, 2-0) took advantage, draining three 3-pointers and using a 3-point play in its first six possessions to push its lead to 40-28.
The Nittany Lions would cut the margin to seven on multiple occasions before Newbill was ejected.
Penn State’s Newbill and Tim Frazier, the nation’s top scoring backcourt, had a rough afternoon. Newbill scored seven points on 2-of-8 shooting before he left, while Frazier was 3-for-11 from the floor for 10 points. Frazier had just one assist, six below his league-leading average. On the day, Penn State had just three assists.
Illinois, last in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding through 14 games, outrebounded the Nittany Lions 44-33 and grabbed 31 of 42 missed Penn State shots. Every Illinois starter had between six and eight boards.
“Illinois beat us in every facet of the game,” Chambers said.
Rayvonte Rice, the league’s top scorer with a 19.0 average, netted 15 to lead four Illinois players in double figures. Newbill helped limit Rice to seven shots in the contest.
Tracy Abrams had 12 points, six rebounds and five assists despite a scoreless first half. Joseph Bertrand and Ekey added 11 each.
Both teams return to action on Wednesday. Penn State is host to Minnesota and Illinois is at No. 4 Wisconsin.