Illini feel the sting of Battle in loss to Penn State
Let’s be honest: Before the season started, just about any Illinois basketball fan would have taken a 23-8 overall record and an 11-7 mark in the Big Ten Conference.
But after No. 23 Illinois blew a late 10-point lead and fell to Penn State 64-63 Thursday in the regular-season finale, the Illini have left everyone thinking about what could have been. Illinois has lost its momentum heading into the postseason by dropping back-to-back games for the first time all season.
With Illinois leading 63-62, Penn State rebounded a missed free throw by Illini forward Mike Davis with 8.1 seconds left. Penn State guard Talor Battle drove the length of the floor and converted a contested layup that bounced in with 0.3 seconds left to cap a 14-3 run and steal the victory.
Now, the question is: Can the Illini bounce back from this heartbreaking loss to regain their mojo in the postseason?
The Illini finished one game short of coach Bruce Weber’s goal of 24 wins, and now they must wait through an off weekend before learning their seed in next week’s Big Ten Tournament. Illinois could be anywhere from the No. 2 to the No. 4 seed.
The team still could get the No. 2 seed if Penn State loses at Iowa on Saturday and Purdue falls at Michigan State on Sunday.
If Illinois, Penn State and Purdue all finish with 11-7 records in the league, Penn State is the No. 2 seed by virtue of a 3-1 record against Illinois and Purdue. The Illini would be 2-2 vs. the group, so the Illini would be the No. 3. Purdue is 1-3 against the other two teams, which would push the Boilermakers to the No. 4 seed.
If Illinois finishes tied with Penn State for third at 11-7, the Illini would be the No. 4 seed.
Penn State (21-9, 10-7), which already had secured the program’s first 20-win regular season in 13 years, is seeking its first NCAA bid since 2001.
Leading 60-50, Illinois appeared in control before going dry down the stretch. The Illini made just one of their next six shots and went 1-for-4 from the free-throw line to give Penn State time to steal the win. Forward Davis Jackson made two free throws to pull Penn State within 63-62 with 58.1 seconds left.
With a chance to take the lead later, Battle lost control, and Illini guard Trent Meacham poked the ball free. After a scramble on the floor, the officials called a tie-up and Illinois had the possession arrow with 9.5 seconds left. Penn State fouled Davis on the inbounds pass with 8.4 seconds left.
Davis, a sophomore, was short on the free throw.
Guard Demetri McCamey scored 16 to lead. Mike Tisdale had 12 points, and Chester Frazier added 11.
Stanley Pringle led Penn State with 20 points, and Battle scored 15.
This game was nothing like the first meeting — a 38-33 victory by Penn State that set a record for fewest points scored by an Illini team in Assembly Hall while producing material for some Big Ten-bashing. On Thursday, Illinois (53.6 percent) and Penn State (52 percent) shot well in the first half.