Penn State Basketball

Penn State basketball: Illinois starts slow, but finishes fast to top Lions

Penn State jumped out quickly in both halves, but Illinois answered late, as the Illini downed the Nittany Lions 64-59 in Champaign, Ill., on Thursday night in Big Ten men’s basketball action.

In a contest polluted by referee’s whistles, missed free throws and turnovers, Penn State — for the third straight game — received double-digit point production from at least three players, but fell short of winning its first conference game.

The two teams combined to shoot 52 free throws on Thursday, and committed 25 turnovers.

Penn State shot 43 percent from the field as a team, as just five Nittany Lions scored in the game.

Jermaine Marshall led all scorers with 20 points. The redshirt junior rebounded from a three-game shooting slump by hitting 6 of 11 from the field.

Sasa Borovnjak continued his hot shooting, scoring 17 points on 7 of 10 shooting. He also added six rebounds.

D.J. Newbill scored 12 points, but shot just 4 of 14 from the field. He also added five assists and had a game-high seven turnovers.

Penn State committed 15 turnovers total to Illinois’ 10 giveaways.

D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul led Illinois (20-8, 7-7 Big Ten) with 18 and 16 points, respectively. Neither shot the ball well. Paul was just 5 for 13 and Richardson just 4-for-11.

In fact, the Illini shot just 39 percent from the field and 63 percent from the foul line. The percentage of converted freebies was poor but the 23 points they accrued from the stripe were important (23 of 36).

In contrast, the Lions shot just 9-of-16 from the free throw line.

Penn State (8-18, 0-14 Big Ten) began the night with a 9-2 push that took advantage of a flat Illinois team.

“I love their attitude, their disposition and how hard they play,” said Illinois head coach John Groce of Penn State. “I thought they had a lot of energy today.”

Groce’s crew didn’t begin with much excitement, but they picked up their defensive intensity and that seemed to spur their offense.

After a quick 6-2 burst, Paul kept the run going when he relieved Nick Colella (six points) of the ball at mid-court, starting a fast break that led to a 3-point play for the Illini.

Later, a 14-5 run secured control and the Illini took a 29-20 lead into halftime.

The Nittany Lions began the second half just like the first. A 10-2 run punctuated by a Marshall three from the top, got Penn State to within 31-30 in the half’s early moments.

However, the Lions wouldn’t get any closer. Illinois answered with a triple with 13:50 remaining and then later went on an 11-2 run that gave them separation.

Foul trouble, missed free throws and an inability to get stops would eventually do in Penn State.

Colella drew his fourth foul with 10:35 remaining. Ross Travis (four points, six rebounds) fouled out, as did Kevin Montminy in three minutes of total play.

The team committed 31 fouls on the night. Some came near the game’s end, but Illinois was also whistled 21 times in a disjointed game that lacked any discernible rhythm or flow.

Penn State will return to action for a 6:30 p.m. home game against No. 7 Michigan on Wednesday at the Bryce Jordan Center.