Hill delivers nail-biting 60-58 Illini win over Penn State
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) With the ball in his hands Saturday and just seconds left in a tie game, Illinois’ Malcolm Hill was looking for the best possible option.
That turned out to be a long, looping run around a double team and then straight to the rim where 7-foot-1 Penn State center Jordan Dickerson waited.
Even with the big body in front of him, Hill finished with a strong layup that rolled around the rim before falling through and giving the Illini a 60-58 win over Penn State.
”I was just going to take what the defense gave me,” Hill said, adding that he briefly considered laying the ball off to teammate Kendrick Nunn. ”I didn’t want to just throw up anything.”
The points were the last of Hill’s game-high 27, putting an exclamation point on a win and providing relief for an Illini team (14-8, 4-5 Big Ten) reeling from injuries and, now, suspensions.
Two of the team’s key injured players could have returned Saturday, but are now out indefinitely, coach John Groce announced just before game time. Leading scorer and rebounder Rayvonte Rice and guard Aaron Cosby both violated unspecified team rules, Groce said, declining to elaborate. Both were with the team Saturday but not in uniform.
”Guys make choices sometimes that aren’t in line with our standards. And when you do, there’s a consequence,” Groce said, adding that both could have played Saturday if not for the suspensions and will practice Sunday. He wouldn’t say if they will play Tuesday against Rutgers.
The loss was gutting for Penn State (14-8, 2-7), which had the ball and a shot at the lead with less than a minute to play.
Illini center Nnanna Egwu tied the game at 58-58 with a short jump-hook with 57 seconds left. Penn State headed the other way, but the officials called Devin Foster for an offensive foul, and with 33 seconds left the ball went to the Illini.
”I think you’ve got to swallow the whistle there,” Penn State coach Pat Chamber said, echoing a comment he made to an official on the floor in the game’s closing minute.
Even then, the Nittany Lions had one last look. Getting the ball back with 4 seconds left, Newbill carried it the length of the floor, driving for a layup of his own. But the 6-11 Egwu waited in the lane, throwing Newbill off just enough to force a miss.
Newbill led Penn State with 20 points. Shep Garner added 14.
Penn State: The 10 points from center Julian Moore were a pleasant surprise for the Nittany Lions as they looked for scoring from someone other than Newbill and Garner. Moore averages 1.1 points a game.
Illinois: Rice and Cosby were both with the Illini but not dressed for the game. Rice has been out since early January with a broken hand. Cosby tore a retina on Jan. 18 against Indiana and had surgery to repair it. Their absences combined with starting point guard Tracy Abrams’ knee injury – he’s out for the season – have limited Illinois to seven or occasionally eight players. The squad is so thin it added manager Ryan Schmidt to the roster last week.
The suspensions didn’t throw the Illini, said sophomore guard Jaylon Tate, who has become a starter out of necessity. ”We’ve been playing without guys for a month now. Everybody has to step up,” he said.
Both coaches talked about the sloppy nature of the game. Penn State had 19 turnovers, and Illinois shot just 31.6 percent from 2-point range.
One long, frustrating Illinois possession summed it up.
With 7:17 left in the first half and the game tied at 18, Illinois moved up court on offense. Over the next 56 seconds, the Illini took one shot from the field – a miss by Nunn – but went to the line three times, courtesy of three Penn State fouls committed against Egwu and three offensive rebounds.
Egwu missed the front end of each those one-and-one opportunities.
Penn State has played 10 games this season decided by five or fewer points. The Nittany Lions were 6-0 in those close games before the conference season started. But they’ve gone 1-3 in the Big Ten.
”It’s brutal,” Chambers said. ”It wears you down as a coach and it wears you down as a player.”
Penn State: The Nittany Lions will play their second straight on the road, traveling to Maryland on Wednesday.
Illinois: Illinois will stay at home to host Rutgers on Tuesday.