Smile Politely

Penn State quietly lashes Illinois

The “House of Penn” has been consistently misspelled by Illini fans for a years now. That’s understandable, as it’s pronounced with an Alabaman accent.

But it should be obvious now, after three consecutive Nittany Lion victories in Champaign. They own this court. They own our team. And if they ask us to go to the kitchen to get them a beer, we’d better look lively.

As with Sunday’s game at Indiana, Illinois played one good half of basketball. Unfortunately, they spread this one over 40 minutes. I’m hoping to be the only sportswriter to avoid using any version of the phrase “Illinois held Penn State to only 38 points, and lost,” but I can see that I’ve already failed. Illinois scored its fewest points since the Big Band era, before the invention of the jumpshot.
It seemed as though Stanley Pringle got his jelly all over the ball.

No one could get a handle on the ball. The teams combined for 28 turnovers, and 29% shooting. The shots were all about a foot short. The follow-up for rebounds never happened. I’d taken a long nap before the game, and evidently so did everyone else.

The Illini scored four points in the first 10:21 of the game. The Illini scored four points in the final 10:21 of the game. And yet, they still had a chance to win in the last minute. Sadly, no one prepares a two-minute drill which contemplates fouls-sans-free-throws. All Penn State had to do to hold on was hack the Illini until the clock expired.

Longtime Illini public address announcer Jim Sheppard was unavailable to say, “that’s just the third team foul on Penn State.” That’s unfortunate, because Illinois did not seem to appreciate the significance of the situation. When Illinois called timeout with 14 seconds to play, down by three, the Penn State staff was all over it. “Do we really have just two fouls?” one staffer queried the PSU radio engineer. Meanwhile, Ed DeChellis drew up the plan for how to end the game.

In the postgame, coach Bruce Weber still didn’t know exactly how many fouls the Nittany Lions had to give.


Although the teams tied for total rebounds with 32, and although Mike Tisdale had 10 rebounds, I’ll argue that we got killed on the boards. Penn State is tiny. We should have owned the glass on length alone. Jamelle Cornley pushed our skinny front line around for seven boards, and 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward Andrew Jones the only sizable Lion cleared eight.

But the reason this team generally loses the rebound battle is not just the Mikes’ frailty. It’s also that Bruce Weber’s motion sets often leave no one under the basket when a shot goes up. If they charged the lane at the moment of release, it would be okay. But apart from Chester Frazier, the Illini are jumpshot spectators. 

See for yourselves:
Alex Legion passes the ball to any one of four waiting Nittany Lions.
Mike Tisdale’s rebound positioning contemplates a highly unusual carom.
On this Calvin Brock jumper, one can see 4-man Dominque Keller moving for position. 5-man
Mike Tisdale hovers around the arc.
On this Jeff Jordan jumper, you can see that BOTH 4 & 5-position men are outside the arc.

Illinois was the first to score 30, with 6:10 remaining in the game. But by that point, Penn State had already taken the momentum, finishing with an 18–4 run and doing it with all varieties of scoring. The one guy able to hit from deep, Chris Babb, hit from deep. The one guy able to move inside, Andrew Jones, moved inside.

PSU even relied on the officials to deduct Illini baskets and award free scoring opportunities for the Lions. The goaltending call against Mike Tisdale was the first of its variety since integration. The intentional foul against Chester Frazier was the first of its kind since ever.


The pre-game meal was moved into a hallway, so Important Persons could rub themselves against Pat Quinn in the dining room. Power corrupts absolutely.

Trent’s shot block, maybe the highlight of a low night, was audible throughout the Hall. DANG, Townie!

At some point, the Illini took notice of the wide open free-throw lane. It was after they’d already enjoyed three drives for buckets. In the backs of their minds, they collectively thought hey, that worked. And then they stopped scoring completely.

It was a good sign when, with just over eight minutes to play, Cornley grunted in frustration at Talor Battle’s failure to take a wrap-around pass and screen. Infighting never helps a team. (Cf. Shaun Pruitt, 2007–08.) But Illinois was unable to take advantage. (Cf. not scoring, supra.)



Tisdale was effective inside versus the much shorter Nittany Lions. That must be why his teammates never passed him the ball. Tisdale, like the rest of the team, attempted zero free throws.

I didn’t see about a fifth of the game, because Lions assistant coach Lewis Preston kept standing up. He’s tall. At the second under-16, referee Lamar Simpson gave a lengthy exhortation on assistant coach bench protocol. After that point, I’m pretty sure I know what happened. I’m still not sure I can explain it, though.
The reason Jeff Jordan has played so well lately: His feet do not actually touch the ground.
Mike Davis was slowed throughout the game by Voodoo-induced spasms.
The pin also poked figurines tithed to Trent Meacham and Penn State’s Andrew Jones.


No one looked good in orange Wednesday. They were all too grumpy, or dazed by Illinois’ soporific effort.

So instead, let’s play Caption Fun.

I’ll go first: “Do The Hustle!”

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