No. 17 Illinois falls to Penn State

The Illini dropped their Big Ten home opener 74-59 on Saturday at State Farm Center in Champaign.

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Illinois head coach Brad Underwood yells at referee Brian McNutt during the first half Saturday.

Illinois head coach Brad Underwood yells at referee Brian McNutt during the first half Saturday.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Andrew Funk and Myles Dread combined for 11 three-pointers to give Penn State a 74-59 win over No. 17 Illinois on Saturday. 

Funk and Jalen Pickett led all scorers with 20 points each, Seth Lundy added 16 and Dread had 15 to give the Nittany Lions (7-3, 1-1 Big Ten) notched their first road Big Ten win against a top-20 team since beating No. 16 Michigan State in 2020.

“There’s not many people that are going to come in here and win,” Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry said. “You prepare for a game like this, you see their talent, you see how hard they play. This crowd, how involved they are, the atmosphere, this is a tough place to play.”

Matthew Mayer led Illinois (7-3, 0-2) with 14 points, all in the first half.

“Put it in bold, damn print: leadership, lack of (it),” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “And no effort. That’s what happens in this league when you have none of that.”

Penn State shot 50% from long distance overall, and hit 6 of 9 threes in the first half. Funk made another three to extend the lead to double digits on the opening possession out of the break.

But Illinois strung together a 8-0 run and held Penn State scoreless for about five minutes to pull closer at 52-47. Then Funk hit back-to-back threes — including one off an inbound pass — and Dread knocked down another in a span of 64 seconds to push the lead to 14 points at 61-47. 

By then, the nearly sold-out crowd had devolved from intense enthusiasm to flustered discontent, and then stunned silence.

“This is a win that we’re going to look back on this and (use) this blueprint as something we can look back on to see how we did it,” said Funk, who added one more three to make it a 74-56 game with 3:51 left.

Mayer hit his first three shots for Illinois, and Penn State knocked down its first three threes of the game in a first half that had eight lead changes and six ties.

PERIMETER PRECISION 

Saturday was the second time Funk and Dread have each made at least five threes in a game this season. The first time was in a two-point loss to Virginia Tech in November.

The difference: Penn State limited itself to nine turnovers Saturday, instead of 14 against the Hokies, and limited the Illini to 12 points off turnovers.

Funk has helped the Nittany Lions average more than 11.5 made threes per game since transferring from Bucknell. 

LACKING LEADERSHIP 

Underwood didn’t hold back about his disappointment in the game, which came after a nationally televised OT win over No. 2 Texas on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. 

He said that after the game, he read the team a text from former Illini Trent Frazier, who is playing basketball professionally in Serbia. Underwood implied the text was too expletive-laden to share publicly.

“(Frazier) is leading from Serbia,” Underwood said. “Every day guys, every day. It’s not about having the media and everyone else kiss their butt when you play in Madison Square Garden and beat a good team.”

BIG PICTURE

Penn State: An overtime loss at Clemson and a defeat to Michigan State were hardly reasons to discount the Nittany Lions from doing some damage in the Big Ten this year. Micah Shrewsberry’s experienced group was composed and found plenty of open shots against the normally formidable Illinois defense.

Illinois: Brad Underwood’s teams usually don’t fall into classic trap-game scenarios, but the Illini did just that. 

UP NEXT

Penn State: Hosts Canisius on Dec. 18.

Illinois: Hosts Alabama A&M next Saturday.

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