Penn State improved to 10-10 on the season and 2-5 in Big Ten play on Thursday night with a 54-52 upset win against Illinois at the Bryce Jordan Center. Today, we take a look at the high and low points of the Nittany Lions' effort and hear from the players and coaches thoughts on the game. For more on the win, head over to our game stream and be sure to check out video below.
-Cammeron Woodyard not only scored a lot of points, but he was efficient, too. The senior led the Lions with 17 points on 6-10 shooting from the field, including 3-4 from beyond the 3-point line while also grabbing four rebounds. He's arguably been the team's best player the last two games since returning full time from his hamstring injury and this performance should only boost his confidence level.
-The Lions were a lot smarter with their 3-point attempts as a team. After hitting only 10 of a whopping 48 attempts in the past two games, Penn State dialed it back to 10 attempts against the Fighting Illini, hitting four. That led to a lot more higher percentage shots on the interior, and although the Lions still only hit at 40.8 percent, the shots were a lot better than some of the wild triples we've seen them shoot of late.
-Penn State's defense was smothering as the Lions held the Illini to 34.7 percent shooting from the field and 31.8 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Illinois' 12 offensive rebounds were less than desirable, but on the whole, there's not much more Penn State could have done defensively. Brandon Paul shook loose for 20 points and Meyers Leonard had 12, but Penn State's goal was clearly to stop everyone else, and is succeeded as all players aside from that duo finished with just 22 combined points on the evening.
-Coach Patrick Chambers likes to call guard Matt Glover his "junkyard dog" and the sophomore played that role well against Illinois, finishing with a gritty 7-point, 7-rebound line. It's not always overtly noticeable, but when Glover does those little things well, it's a big boost for Penn State at both ends.
-Tim Frazier's clutch runner in the lane with eight seconds remaining in the game was the type of clutch play Penn State has been looking for all season.
-Billy Oliver was held out of the lineup Thursday night with what the team is calling "illness." When asked about Oliver's status after the game, though, Chambers didn't have any timetable for the junior forward's return and refused to rule out concussion symptoms as a cause. Oliver has a long history of bad headaches keeping him out of action, so the team certainly hopes this affliction is something unrelated.
-As mentioned above, Illinois came up with 12 offensive rebounds in the game, and a bunch of them came very early on. If Penn State is going to pick up a wins on the road at No. 13 Indiana and No. 6 Ohio State in the coming week, it needs to bring more intensity in the early stages. The Lions are a solid rebounding team, and if they give that edge away with marginal effort in the opening minutes, that's a sure path to defeat against elite squads like the Hoosiers and Buckeyes.
-Penn State is still six wins away from a .500 finish and postseason eligibility with 12 games remaining, including the Big Ten Tournament.
Woodyard on Chambers' strategy at the end of tight games: "Coach makes those calls, going with who's got the hot hand or he adjusts to how the defense is playing. He knows what he's doing. He knows what to draw up and who to get the ball to at the right time."
Illinois coach Bruce Weber on losing in State College for the fourth time in five games: "They play hard here. We put on the scouting report 'Bryce Jordan.' They play at another level."
Chambers on playing with confidence: "When you have confidence, man, these kids can do anything, and I think this team's got some confidence."
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers
Penn State players Cammeron Woodyard, Tim Frazier and Matt Glover
Illinois coach Bruce Weber.