Win over PSU key to No. 20 Illinois' Big Ten tourney seed
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Illinois' chances of sharing a Big Ten Conference title may have taken a fatal blow Tuesday night when No. 10 Wisconsin beat No. 8 Purdue for the second time this season, but the 20th-ranked Fighting Illini can still secure a high seed for next week's conference tournament with two wins.
The first of those can happen Thursday night when they welcome Penn State to Champaign for the teams' only meeting of the season.
Illinois (20-8, 13-5 Big Ten) is coming off one of its best offensive performances of the season, a 93-85 win at Michigan in which it did everything it's capable of doing on offense.
There were 27 points from Kofi Cockburn, 26 from 3-point sharpshooter Alfonso Plummer and a dagger trey in the final minute by Trent Frazier that sealed the victory.
Frazier finished with 17 points, burnishing his growing reputation among his teammates as their "closer." He might not have the multitude of skills Ayo Dosunmu displayed the previous two seasons when he took most of the late shots for the Illini, but Frazier has all of the steely will a teammate and coach could want.
"He took it from Ayo," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said of Frazier's late-game heroics. "I'd like to tell you (the 3-pointer) was a great play. No, it was a dude making a play. When you get to this level, you've got to have guys make plays."
Cockburn leads four Illinois double-figure scorers at 21.5 points per game and adds 10.7 rebounds, while Plummer contributes 15.5 ppg and sinks 42.3 percent of his 3-point attempts. Frazier contributes 12.6 ppg and four assists per game.
The Illini can finish no worse than second if they win their last two games. Should they win and Wisconsin lose on Sunday against Nebraska, Illinois would share the regular-season title with the Badgers (24-5, 15-4).
Meanwhile, a good stretch of basketball ended with an emphatic, embarrassing thud for Penn State (12-14, 7-11) on Sunday night. Winners of three of four entering a home date with Nebraska, the last-place team in the league, the Nittany Lions trailed by 32 in the second half of a 93-70 defeat.
Penn State didn't come close to slowing the Cornhuskers, allowing 58.2 percent shooting from the field and 13 of 20 3-point accuracy. The Nittany Lions also got dominated 34-22 on the glass by a team that entered the game getting outboarded by eight per game.
"I did a terrible job getting these guys prepared," first-year Nittany Lions coach Micah Shrewsberry said. "We were just a step behind the entire time. They were playing a faster pace than we were defensively. ... It snowballs."
Penn State trailed by double figures for the final 25-plus minutes of the game. Seth Lundy finished with 12 points and a career-high four steals, but there were few other highlights for the Nittany Lions.
Illinois owns a 31-19 lead in the all-time series, including three straight victories over the previous two seasons. The Illini beat the Nittany Lions 98-81 and 79-65 last season.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 2, 2022