Illinois teammates Kipper Nichols and Te’Jon Lucas made the same mistake against the Big Ten’s steals leader.
On the Fighting Illini’s first possession against Penn State on Saturday, Nichols caught the ball beyond the arc and looked to feed Leron Black in the post. Nichols lobbed a pass in his teammate’s direction, but Nittany Lions guard Josh Reaves ensured it never got there.
Reaves leaped into the air and snared the pass with his left hand.
Fifty-seven seconds later, Lucas tried to float an entry pass to Fighting Illini center Maverick Morgan in the post, but Reaves read the play, left his feet and hauled in another steal.
“That’s all instincts,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said Monday’s news conference. “And when Josh has a clear head, there’s really no better defender in this league. He was clear-headed (against Illinois), you could see it.”
Reaves finished with three steals Saturday and leads the conference with 2.2 steals per game going into Penn State’s road matchup with Nebraska (10-14, 4-8) at 9 p.m. Tuesday. Reaves has combined his instincts with his hustle to set the tone defensively for the Nittany Lions (14-12, 6-7), turning deflections into steals and consistently bringing energy.
Chambers has called Reaves the “heart and soul” of the team throughout the season.
“I have to do whatever it takes, I have to dive on the floor, get a rebound over anybody,” Reaves said last month. “I have to do that type of stuff. I feel like Coach, he put it in front of me to be the heart and soul of the team and I’m trying to take that role as best as possible.
“At this point, honestly, I don’t care what happens to me on the court.”
Reaves said that includes having an opponent dunk on him.
Indiana’s Thomas Bryant did just that on Jan. 18, finishing a slam over Reaves, who had sprinted back on defense to try to challenge him. Reaves didn’t care and went back to the huddle to tell his teammates to “keep going.” The sophomore guard hoped he set an example for his teammates.
“Them seeing that, I feel like that’s when they pick it up,” Reaves said. “That’s when they see like, ‘Oh if he can do it, why can’t I? If he doesn’t care about how he looks out there or how embarrassed he’s getting, he’s just giving his 110 percent, I can too.’”
Chambers saw an engaged Reaves on Saturday as the guard finished with seven points and six rebounds to go with his three steals.
“He has a long way to go, maturing and growing,” Chambers said, “but I feel like he’s going to finish really strong here.”
Notes: Chambers said Julian Moore is healthy after missing Saturday’s game due to illness. Moore was sick for last week’s game against Maryland when he scored nine points. ... Nebraska is on a three-game losing streak. The Cornhuskers fell 70-69 in overtime against then-No. 7 Wisconsin last Thursday. ... Tai Webster is Nebraska’s leading scorer and ranks third in the league with 18.0 points per game.
Penn State at Nebraska
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena, Lincoln, Neb.
Radio: WQWK 1450
Glynn Watson Jr.