Illinois put the ball in the hands of its best player Saturday, and Malcolm Hill didn’t waste any time getting to the rim.
Hill caught the ball beyond the right elbow and drew the attention of Penn State’s Jordan Dickerson and Geno Thorpe after pouring in nearly half of the Fighting Illini’s points all afternoon.
With Dickerson to his left and Thorpe to his right, Hill dribbled toward Penn State’s 7-foot-1 center to negate the double team. He circled around the perimeter and got the angle on Dickerson down the left side of the lane, finishing a tough left-handed layup to push Illinois ahead with 4.4 seconds remaining.
“I was just going to take what the defense gave me,” Hill said. “I didn’t want to just throw up anything.”
Penn State went to its best player to try to force overtime, but D.J. Newbill’s dash the length of the court resulted in a missed layup to cap a 60-58 loss to the Fighting Illini at the State Farm Center. The tight contest featured 12 ties and 16 lead changes. The difference was never larger than four points in the final 32:53.
Hill dropped a game-high 27 points on 10 for 15 shooting, accounting for half of Illinois’ field goals and 45 percent of the team’s scoring. Newbill paced Penn State (14-8, 2-7) with 20 points, while Shep Garner added 14.
Penn State finished with 19 turnovers and four assists in the loss.
Illinois coach John Groce announced the suspensions of leading scorer Rayvonte Rice and guard Aaron Cosby before the game. Rice and Cosby, who had both been out with injuries, violated team rules, Groce said. Groce said both could have returned from injury to play Saturday.
“Guys make choices sometimes that aren’t in line with our standards. And when you do, there’s a consequence,” Groce said.
Hill’s finish off the glass with 7:06 remaining gave Illinois a 56-53 lead.
The Fighting Illini (14-8, 4-5) then missed nine straight field goal attempts. Penn State went ahead 58-56 going into the final minute behind three points by Dickerson and two points by Garner.
Illinois center Nnanna Egwu broke the cold streak with a hook shot to tie the game. It was Egwu’s first and only field goal, and Penn State took a timeout with 51.6 seconds left.
Penn State attempted to get the ball to Newbill with the game on the line, but the Nittany Lions’ dribble handoff play ended as soon as he took possession.
Penn State guard Devin Foster was whistled for an offensive foul, bumping Illinois guard Jaylon Tate on the exchange to free Newbill. It gave the ball to Illinois with 33.9 seconds remaining.
“I think you’ve got to swallow the whistle there,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said.
After Hill made the go-ahead layup with 4.4 seconds left, Newbill raced down the floor and missed a layup with Egwu at the rim.
Hill scored 13 points to help the Fighting Illini take a 30-26 halftime lead. Hill scored the Fighting Illini’s first seven points of the second half.
Forward Julian Moore paced the Nittany Lions with eight points in the first half. Moore, who finished with a career-high 10 points, got on the board with a putback slam off a missed layup by Foster. He also hit two hook shots and finished another putback dunk for his two points in the second half.
Penn State committed 13 fouls in the first half Saturday after being called for 12 fouls in its entire game against Minnesota on Wednesday.
Newbill sat the final six-plus minutes of the first half after picking up his second foul. He scored his seven first-half points in the first eight minutes of the game. Newbill and Garner combined to score Penn State’s first 14 points.
Notes: Penn State returns to action at Maryland at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. ... Brandon Taylor missed his second straight game Saturday due to a right-knee injury. ... Penn State outrebounded Illinois 32-26. ... The Nittany Lions went 4 for 16 from 3-point range, while Illinois shot 8 for 15 from deep. ... Illinois guard Kendrick Nunn finished with 10 points but went 2 for 14 from the field. ... Newbill moved into fifth all-time on the program’s scoring list. He is 25 points away from tying Pete Lisicky (1995-98) with 1,605 points.