A little over a year ago Penn State found a way to work some magic and knock off No. 24 Illinois 54-52 in the Bryce Jordan Center.
This time around, the Nittany Lions (8-18, 0-14 Big Ten) could not put it together on the road, falling to Illinois (20-8, 7-7 Big Ten) 64-59 in Champagne, Ill.
The same demons haunted the Lions as trouble with fouls and turnovers led to their 14th straight loss.
The Lions racked up 16 turnovers, including seven by redshirt sophomore D.J. Newbill. Turnovers came at crucial times for the Lions, like with 2:03 remaining and Illinois leading by the narrow margin of six when redshirt junior Jermaine Marshall threw an errant pass to Nick Colella that proved to be the dagger.
“Turnovers hurt us, we had 10 in the first half that puts us at a disadvantage,” assistant coach Eugene Burroughs said to Penn State Sports Network after the game. “We started fouling late in the first half which put them up nine because they made a few free throws.”
Defense, rebounding and physicality have been the staples for Penn State throughout their season, but their physicality worked against them translating into foul trouble.
After Michigan attempted 35 free throws against the Lions on Sunday, Penn State sent Illinois to the line for 26 attempts.
The Lions jumped out to a 9-2 lead in the early going but things quickly fell apart. Penn State hit the bonus late in the first half, sending Illinois to the line for several 1-and-1s, allowing them to build a 29-20 lead at the half.
The second half proved to be much of the same with the Lions opening with a 13-5 run but finding themselves in the bonus early once again. Only Ross Travis fouled out, but Newbill and Colella finished with four fouls apiece.
Illinois’ leading scorers D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul led the way with 18 and 16 points respectively. Richardson and Paul alone attempted 17 free throws.
A couple of bright spots for the Lions were Marshall and senior Sasa Borovnjak, who has stepped up during the backstretch of the Lions regular-season schedule. Marshall finished with a game-high of 20 points on a very efficient 6-of-11 shooting.
“He played a great game today, he didn’t force shots the game came to him,” Burroughs said.
Borovnjak finished with 17 points and 6 rebounds. The Serbia native is averaging 16 points in the Lions’ last three games.
“He’s just playing great, he’s really dedicated himself to doing the little things,” Burroughs said. “Now it’s paying off, he’s playing like a senior, he’s probably playing like one of the best bigs in the league right now. He’s making plays around the rim, he’s making free throws, he’s doing an outstanding job.”