No. 17 Illinois looks to ride momentum against Penn State

No. 17 Illinois is flying high after securing an upset victory against No. 2 Texas on Tuesday in New York City.

The Fighting Illini hope to ride that momentum into their return to Big Ten action, as they host Penn State on Saturday in Champaign, Ill.

Illinois (7-2, 0-1 Big Ten) trailed Texas by double digits with under nine minutes left in regulation before rallying to force overtime behind Jayden Epps, who made a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left and two tying free throws with eight seconds to play.

Matthew Mayer finished with 21 points for the Illini, while Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 12 of his 16 points in overtime to clinch the victory.

“They were all under control,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “They were all poised.”

The win had to be particularly sweet for Shannon, who previously played for Texas coach Chris Beard when they both were at Texas Tech. Shannon currently leads the Illini in scoring (19.3), rebounding (6.2) and 3-pointers made (22).

“No one works harder than Terrence Shannon at his game,” Underwood said. “Nobody. He’s one of the best players in the country. He’s one of the best athletes. We lean on him. We know that. He’s got that expectation from us, so it’s great to see.”

From a team perspective, Underwood is pleased with his squad’s turnaround from losses to Virginia and Maryland.

“I don’t know where it’s coming (from), and I think that’s the beauty of our team,” Underwood said. “We were about as ugly a basketball team as you can be in that 6-2 run. We didn’t look like we could beat a high school team. Yet, we’ve had those moments and we’ve been able to fight back in a lot of games and find our way back.”

Penn State (6-3, 0-1) is coming off a 67-58 setback against Michigan State despite Jalen Pickett’s 13 points, career-high 17 rebounds and eight assists. The senior guard leads the team in scoring (15.8), rebounding (7.8), assists (7.7) and steals (1.4), but several of his teammates are struggling at the moment.

In particular, forward Kebba Njie is enduring a rough stretch, with two points on 1-of-7 shooting over the last two games.

“It’s hard,” Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry said. “This is a hard league for a freshman to come in and play in that position. But he’s talented enough, he’s good enough, he’s got to believe in himself. He’s got to believe in the things that have gotten him here and when he makes mistakes, he’s got to play through them.”

On the perimeter, the Nittany Lions missed 19 of their 27 3-point attempts against the Spartans. Andrew Funk went 0-for-3 from long range and is just 5 of 19 from beyond the arc since going 5 of 11 against Virginia Tech on Nov. 18.

“We’re trying to run offense to get layups and wide-open threes,” Shrewsberry said. “We got wide-open threes (against Michigan State). We just didn’t convert them.”

Illinois leads the all-time series 32-18, including four straight victories. Most recently, the Illini prevailed over the Nittany Lions, 60-55, last March despite Pickett’s game-high totals of 18 points and seven assists.

–Field Level Media