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Illinois Basketball: 3 Observations From Penn St



After Purdue lost to Northwestern on Sunday, Illinois regular season title hopes remained alive by a sliver. Following a 93-81 road loss to Penn State, that sliver is very likely no longer there. The Illini gave up their joint-most points allowed all season, fueled by one of the best performances against Illinois in the last decade.

1. Pickett Power

It was the Jalen Pickett show for Penn State, with the Senior guard putting up a career-high 41. He did it in all the ways he normally does, with post ups, and mid-range jumpers. He also did some things I’m sure Illinois was okay with going into the game, hitting a season-high five threes on a season high nine attempts.

The 41 was the most points for any Big Ten player this year. It was a performance you just have to take your hat off to, although Illinois will have to be better on opposing leading scorers. He didn’t just score, as Pickett got going the Illini tried sending multiple bodies his way, but Pickett controlled that aspect as well, finishing with eight assists to two turnovers. Pickett played 39 minutes as well, and the Illini struggled to target him defensively to wear him down on that end.

2. Silver Illinings

By no means was this a good performance, especially considering how the first matchup went. However, I thought there was some improvement from this game to the December matchup. Shannon had 20 points for the first time since January 19th against Indiana. Ty Rogers looked incredible, and showed off a post-up game that will make him a lot more playable for long stretches especially with Hawkins at the five. Luke Goode and RJ Melendez both made three pointers, something this team will desperately need. For the most part I thought they played inside out offensively until they started feeling the deficit and launched threes. Penn State played like a Senior laden squad with their lives on the line, and Illinois was unable to match that intensity.

3. Missing Mayer

The last two times Matthew Mayer has had truly bad games, Illinois has gotten handled. A sick Mayer went scoreless against Indiana in their last double-digit loss, and this was his worst game since then. Mayer jumped on multiple pump fakes, went ISO on multiple crucial possessions in the second half, and generally didn’t provide the winning impact he has had over the last month or two. Given his track record, he will likely get back on track, but these losses show how much they need him. Of his six shot attempts, five were threes. The Illini struggled from three again today, going 7-27 to about match their conference percentage of 29% from deep. Make no mistake though, this game was lost on the defensive end.

Despite the sobering result, the Illini still have much to play for this year. They travel to Indiana next, where they will get another chance at paying a Big Ten opponent back for a home loss and avoid a season sweep. While Indiana doesn’t provide the same problems, Illinois cannot play like that in Assembly Hall and win. The Illini now sit at 17-8, 8-6 in conference.

Brian is a former sports writer for the Daily Illini who has been covering Illinois Basketball for over 5 years. Brian is now the lead basketball reporter for Armchair Illini, the go-to source for Illinois athletics news. He has had work published on Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, USA Today and more.