Illinois heads to Penn St. focused on defense


Illini drop out of Top 25, Nittany Lions match program best spot at No. 9

CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — The Illinois basketball team was back on a plane Monday afternoon, less than 48 hours after returning from Rutgers. The Illini (16-9, 8-6 B1G) head to Happy Valley to face No. 9 Penn State, looking to return to Champaign with a different result after dropping their last four games. Defense was a big issue against the Scarlet Knights, who shot 49 percent for the game, including 46 percent from beyond the arc.

“It’s easy to want to magnify and look at offense. and say offense is to blame for this or that,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said after his team went 7-for-26 from the field in the second half. “There’s a lot of ways to score, that’s why I don’t worry about losing a leading scorer (Ayo Dosunmu). Getting guys to communicate, and getting guys to guard and do what they’re supposed to do mistake free on the defensive end–that’s the challenge.”

Losing Dosunmu no doubt hurt the Illini, who struggled to get a bucket in the second half. Without their go-to guy and closer, who missed just his second career game with a left knee injury, Illinois took 13 3’s in the second half making just four. Rutgers turned a one point lead with 15:19 to play into an 11-0 run, taking control of the game the rest of the way. Underwood said Dosunmu is still day-to-day.

“I think the biggest thing with that was Ayo being out, guys had to step up and have an increased role,” Illinois junior Trent Frazier said. “We had a lot of mistakes on the defensive, I don’t think that our connectivity is right. That game is in the past, we really focused on Penn State so there’s nothing we can do.”

Now the focus shifts to No. 9 Penn State, who have matched the program’s highest ranking. The Nittany Lions have won eight straight games and are 13-1 at the Bryce Jordan Center this season.

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