CHICAGO – #10 Penn State opened their 2023 Big Ten Tournament campaign against #7 Illinois Thursday evening. The Nittany Lions were able to complete the season sweep with a 79-76 victory. Andrew Funk led all scoring with 20 points.
As expected, the game started as a dog fight with each team going toe to toe scoring. Going into the first media timeout, Penn State had a one-point advantage over Illinois and was 3/3 from the field.
Matthew Mayer was among Illinois’s shooters who faced difficulty against Penn State’s firm defense and were forced to make many difficult shots; they started 1-6 from behind the arc. Penn State controlled the boards and limited the opportunity for second chance points. Heading into the second media timeout Penn State jumped out to a five-point lead, with Lundy leading the pack with an early nine points.
The Nittany Lions were shooting the ball extremely well going 2-4 from three and over the course of two and half minutes Penn State went on a 9-0 and found themselves with a ten-point lead.
Illinois then began to find its footing as it went on an 8-0 run themselves and held the Nittany Lions scoreless for over four minutes. The Fighting Illini were finally getting offensive boards and put on quite the display of blocked shots.
Seth Lundy finally ended the drought with a tough layup and silenced an Illinois-favored crowd. Penn State went into the half-up only one.
The second half started very similarly to the first with both teams scoring buckets. Illinois was able to retake the lead thanks to a couple of foolish fouls and turnovers by the Nittany Lions.
At the 14-minute mark Illinois was up by four after shooting seven of nine from the field, but Andrew Funk was able to hit a dagger three bringing Penn State within one.
Back-to-back three-pointers by both Dread and Funk gave the Nittany Lions a two-point advantage, but on the other side of the court, Dain Dainja was able to secure the three-point play and the lead for Illinois.
With only five minutes remaining Penn State went on a 7-0 run and held Illinois scoreless for three minutes. Illinois was missing free throws left and right, and Penn State got out to a seven-point lead while shooting four of their last five.
The miscues from the foul line continued for Illinois as they went one for two on multiple trips to the free throw line; they finished the night 9-15 on free throws.
For Penn State, the free throw line was a friend, especially down the stretch as Illinois was forced to foul down five with 12 seconds to go.
Penn State will go on to play against #2 seed Northwestern tomorrow. A team they defeated just nine days ago.