Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team When you saw the box score of #16 Illinois’ (21-6, 9-5) 38-33 home loss to unranked Penn St. (19-8, 8-6) on Wednesday night, you might have thought you were glancing at a Girls’ high school basketball result. In football, the two schools combined to score 62 points last fall, in roundball just nine more. If you ever wondered why the Big Ten, the 2nd highest rated conference in RPI, doesn’t nationally receive the respect it might deserve, it’s because of ugly games like these. Wednesday night’s affair made the Dick Bennett “stall-ball” era at Wisconsin look like Magic Johnson’s “Showtime” years at the Great Western Forum. This contest was about defense, but it was much more about ludicrously bad offense. The Illini motion attack stood still, and the Nittany Lions (notice how their team name starts with N-I-T) got an offensive boost from the officials.
The home crowd at the “House of Paign” were boisterously critical of the refs, and perhaps rightfully so, given the disparity in free throws: Penn State attempted 11, Illinois zero. “Very flat, not moving, didn’t get good cutting,” Illini coach Bruce Weber said of his team’s non-existent “O.”
Illinois Senior guards Trent Meacham and Chester Frazier “led” (I can’t make air-quotes strong enough to invoke the necessary sarcasm) the Illini with 7 points apiece. The other three starters contributed 6, 5, and 4 points. But at least the scoring was balanced. “They played good defense all night, we missed some shots we usually make, it was a combination of both,” Meacham said. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn was in attendance for this game: which was to offensive fundamentals what his predecessor Rod Blagojevich was to ethical governance. In the nearly 50 year history of Assembly Hall, this game broke records for: lowest winning score, fewest combined points, worst combined field-goal accuracy, and fewest point scored by Illinois.
Penn State Coach Ed DeChellis was asked if he had seen anything like this in all his years of college basketball. “It was uncharted water, sometimes I looked up at the score and I didn’t know what half we were in. At the end, we set this back a few years, Naismith must be rolling over in his grave,” the winning headman replied.