The late-season surge continued by sending out the seniors with an impressive win.
Penn State men’s basketball defeated Illinois 72-56 Sunday afternoon in its final home game and final regular-season game. Senior Josh Reaves put out a performance to remember with a double-double recording a career-high 26 points and 11 rebounds.
Penn State trailed 32-31 at halftime.
You can find a media release courtesy of Penn State athletics below:
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State recovered from a slow start in the first half to earn a 72-56 win over Illinois in the Bryce Jordan Center Sunday afternoon. Led by senior Josh Reaves with a double-double featuring 11 rebounds and a career-best 26 points, Penn State outscored Illinois 41-24 in the second half after trailing by one at the break, 32-31.
Reaves and junior forward Lamar Stevens combined for 42 of the Nittany Lions’ 72 points as Stevens had 16 points and six rebounds. He moved into Penn State’s all-time scoring top five list, now with 1,636 career points.
The Nittany Lions (14-17, 7-13) won their seventh Big Ten Conference game and secured a first-round bye for the Big Ten Tournament. It is Penn State’s third in tournament history, with the first in 2016 and back-to-back byes in 2018 and 2019. Penn State will play either Ohio State or Minnesota on Thursday, March 14, at the United Center in Chicago.
“As far as the game, Brad [Underwood] did a great job,” said Penn State men’s basketball coach Patrick Chambers. “We were ready for the 3-2 [zone] but we didn’t think he would play it for the whole half or 30 minutes of the game. Give Brad credit, give Illinois credit for what they did. They kept us off balance, they slowed the pace down, which they haven’t done all year. They were winning at halftime, but our guys picked up the pace in the second half, (and) some shots started to fall for us.”
Penn State shot 50 percent from the field in the second half and held Illinois to 20.8 percent in the same timeframe. The Nittany Lions capitalized off 11 Illini second-half turnovers for 15 points. Reaves continued his offensive attack with 15 points of his 26 in the second period, splitting his career-best six 3-pointers with three in each half.
“Josh played great, Lamar hit some timely shots and we got enough stops,” Chambers said. That’s what it came down to, our identity. I’m all about improvement and identity and I think you saw that in the second half when we were face a bit of challenge and adversity. Couldn’t be prouder of a group. I don’t know if you remember this but we were 0-10. We were 0-10. We just got ourselves a bye. That’s a credit to the leadership of the players and to the staff. To stay the course, stick together, and minimize the noise from the outside.”
Sophomore guard Jamari Wheeler changed the pace for the Nittany Lions and had a career-best nine assists as Penn State finished the game with 18, 10 coming on the 14 second-period baskets. He also had five rebounds and three steals. Rasir Bolton had seven points and Myreon Jones and Mike Watkins each had five with 13 of those 17 total points coming in the second half.
The Nittany Lions opened the second half on a 16-5 run to take a 47-39 lead at the 14:29 mark and force an Illini timeout. Reaves had 11 points in the stretch fueled by three 3-pointers with layups by Watkins and Wheeler.
Over the next two minutes, layups by Watkins and Bolton gave Penn State a double-digit lead at 51-41 it would hold for most of the remainder of the game.
Senior forward Deivis Zemgulis, who spoke to Chambers prior to Sunday’s game, relinquished his senior day starting spot in an selfless effort for the good of the team. He made the last field goal of a game, a 3-point field goal with an assist from Wheeler.
In the opening minutes, Reaves started off strong with the first five points for the Nittany Lions, but from the field, the ball wouldn’t fall as Penn State went 4-14 from the floor, including a 1-11 mark from beyond the arc.
Penn State took a timeout at 9:22 after an 11-3 Illini run gave Illinois a five-point lead, 16-11. The Nittany Lions had only a Lamar Stevens basket and free throw by freshman Myreon Jones in the five-minute-plus stretch. Illinois took the lead to seven two more times before Reaves and Bolton traded treys to trim Penn State’s deficit to four, 22-18.
Another big 3-pointer by Reaves brought the Nittany Lions within one before Aaron Jordan answered with a triple to give Illinois a 25-21 lead. Sophomore forward John Harrar made two free throws then picked up a steal to feed Jamari Wheeler for the assist on Stevens’ dunk to knot the score at 25 with 3:33 to play. Stevens converted the free throw and a Myles Dread 3-point basket gave Penn State its largest lead of the first half at 29-25.
Illinois responded with a 7-0 run over the next 66 seconds to swing the score back in its favor, 32-29 before Stevens added a jumper as Illinois then led by only one, 32-31 at the half. Both teams scored 10 points in the final five minutes of the half in a flurry of a finish after the slow start.
Illinois freshmen Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Ayo Dosunmu each had 16 points with Dosunmu grabbing eight rebounds for the Illini team best. Adonis De La Rosa had nine points and six rebounds.