Illini try to stay unbeaten in Happy Valley
State College, PA (Sports Network) – Sitting at the top of the national
rankings for the 11th straight week, the Illinois Fighting Illini make the
trip to State College, to battle the Penn State Nittany Lions in Big Ten
action from the Bryce Jordan Center this evening.
The top-ranked Illini are the only unbeaten team left in Division I and moved
to 25-0 overall and 11-0 in conference play with Saturday’s 70-59 win over
20th-ranked Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions are at the opposite end of the Big
Ten landscape, sitting in last place in the conference standings at 1-9. PSU
has dropped five straight entering this contest, including Saturday’s 66-56
decision against Ohio State. Illinois has won the last five meetings with Penn
State and nine of the last 10 overall. The Illini are looking for the regular
season sweep again, after posting a rather easy 90-64 win over the Nittany
Lions in Champaign on January 12th. Illinois owns a pair of lengthy win
streaks entering this contest. The team has won its first 25 games this
season, currently the top win streak in the nation. The team’s 12-game road
winning streak is also tops in the country.
The backcourt trio of Luther Head, Dee Brown and Deron Williams provided the
majority of the fireworks against Wisconsin, as they combined for 57 of the
team’s 70 total points. Head posted a season-high tying 26 points, while Brown
and Williams added 16 and 15 points, respectively. Illinois pulled away in the
end, hitting 8-of-8 free throw attempts over the final minute and a half. The
superb guard play has fueled Illinois’ run thus far. All three backcourt
starters have the ability to light up the scoreboard, starting with Head. The
6-3 senior leads the team in scoring at 16.9 ppg and is shooting a sizzling
.424 from behind the arc (72-of-170). Brown can also drain the long range
jumper, shooting .448 from behind the arc (60-of-134), adding 13.2 ppg.
Williams finishes things off from the perimeter with 12.5 ppg. The frontcourt
gets it done as well, with both forwards Roger Powell (12.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and
James Augustine (10.2 ppg, team-high 7.2 rpg) providing offensive balance.
Freshmen Geary Claxton and Travis Parker both finished with double-doubles,
but it wasn’t enough to put Penn State in the win column last time out against
Ohio State. Claxton tallied 14 points and 12 rebounds, while Parker was right
behind with 14 points and 11 boards. Junior Aaron Johnson chipped in with 10
points, but the Nittany Lions shot the ball terribly (.300), including a
meager .111 from three-point range (2-of-18). The Nitts have struggled
offensively for much of the season, averaging just 65.0 ppg, on .406 shooting.
Johnson leads the team in scoring at 13.0 ppg. He is joined in double figures
by Claxton (12.2 ppg) and Parker (12.0 ppg).
The Nittany Lions are a young team, but not necessarily on the rise. The team
has even faltered mightily at home (4-7). It won’t get any better with the
Illini coming to town, as the top team in the land should make light work of
their foe this evening.