GAME NOTES: The Illinois Fighting Illini will attempt to bring their eight- game losing streak to an end on Sunday afternoon when they venture to the Bryce Jordan Center for a Big Ten Conference tilt with the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Illinois' Big Ten slate of games started off promising with two straight wins, but it has found no luck in the month since then with eight straight losses, most recently dropping a 75-63 decision at home to Wisconsin on Tuesday, 75-63. The Illini are 13-10 overall this season, but they have won just one of six matchups on the road.
PSU has also struggled in conference action, going just 3-7, although all three of those wins came in succession a few weeks back. The Nittany Lions snapped that streak on Thursday, however, with an 82-67 setback at Michigan State to fall to 12-11 overall.
The Illini made easy work of the Nittany Lions in Champaign on Jan. 4, 75-55, to improve to 27-13 in the all-time series.
Illinois went into halftime of its most recent contest trailing Wisconsin by seven, and while it was able to cut its deficit to one possession on several occasions, it never overtook the lead and was eventually saddled with the 12- point loss. It shot a modest 40.4 percent on the evening and was outscored from 3-point range by the Badgers, 30-12. Rayvonte Rice paced the losing effort with 24 points and nine rebounds, while Joseph Bertrand and Nnanna Egwu put up 11 and 10 points, respectively.
On the season, the Illini have failed to impress offensively, shooting just 41.3 percent from the field for 67.6 ppg. They have scored less than that average in six of the past seven games, which has all but negated its impressive output on the defensive end of the floor (.417, 64.6 ppg). Rice is the unquestioned catalyst, pouring in 16.9 ppg while also leading the team in rebounding (5.9) and steals (29). Tracy Abrams (11.9 ppg), Bertrand (11.0 ppg), Jon Ekey (7.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Egwu (7.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.2 bpg) round out a lineup that has started every game together.
The Nittany Lions were outmatched from the opening tip in their latest tilt, falling behind by 16 at intermission and never getting closer than 12 points of the lead the rest of the way. They were outshot from the field by Michigan State, 46.7 percent to 36.8 percent, and were outrebounded by a 42-30 margin. Tim Frazier was able to overcome the struggles of most of his teammates by scoring 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field. D.J. Newbill added 17 points, but he was only 5-of-18 from the floor.
PSU is usually a much more efficient scoring squad, as it shoots 44.3 percent from the field for 74.8 ppg, but while its field goal percentage defense has been stellar (.411), it still owns a lackluster scoring defense (72.7 ppg) due partially to its poor showing on the glass (-0.7) and by allowing 7.3 3- pointers per game. Newbill leads the way with 17.6 ppg on greater than 46 percent field goal shooting. Frazier nets 16.4 ppg on strong percentages from the field (.479) and the foul line (.801) while also ranking 13th in the nation in assists (6.1 apg). Ross Travis (9.7 ppg) hauls in a team-best 7.1 rpg.
Its current skid aside, Illinois has performed poorly on the road all season long, which doesn't bode well heading to University Park to play a Nittany Lions' club that has gone 8-5 at home.
Game Date and Time