No style points for PSU; just a key road win

February, 19, 2009
Ed DeChellis could watch the game tape from Penn State's win over Illinois for only 40 real-time minutes. His Penn State staff was subjected to the entire 40 minutes of game time.

"I don't know if I'll be in that frame of mind again," DeChellis said Thursday. "I didn't know what half we were in when they said the game was 38-33. I thought it was a dream. I thought it was halftime."

Nope, that score was 17-15 for the Nittany Lions. Penn State beat Illinois Wednesday night in a game that is memorable for its statistical oddities. Illinois didn't attempt a free throw. Not one free throw, not one attempt, and the Illini were playing at home.

Illinois was 15-of-50 from the field, 3-of-16 on 3s and didn't have a single player in double figures. Penn State was 13-of-46, 3-of-17 on 3s and 9-of-11 at the line.

"It was a slugfest," DeChellis said. "We missed open shots. Illinois missed open shots, shots that went in and out and around the rim. Both teams defended well, though."

DeChellis said he's not sure he has ever seen a home team not get to the free throw line.

But the Nittany Lions won. They got a road win. They landed a quality RPI win considering Illinois (21-6, 9-5 Big Ten) is No. 19. Penn State (19-8, 8-6) is much deeper at No. 58.

The NCAA selection committee isn't supposed to invite teams based on how entertaining they are for its television partner, CBS. This is about the top 34 teams remaining after the 31 automatic qualifiers. The process is subjective, but wins and losses matter more than style of play.

"[The selection committee doesn't] care; it's a win and it goes on that side of the column," DeChellis said. "It's not like they won't count the win because we only scored 38 points."

Penn State is in an intriguing position now. The Nittany Lions have won on the road against two of the top teams in the Big Ten in Michigan State and Illinois. The Nittany Lions also have a home win over Purdue. Robbie Hummel and Chris Kramer were hurt and didn't play against the Illini, but the result still goes down as a W for the Nittany Lions.

As for bad losses for the Nittany Lions, well, it's hard to find any of them on the schedule. Losing to Rhode Island on a neutral court isn't awful and neither is falling to Temple at home. In the Big Ten the Nittany Lions didn't lose to Indiana or Iowa, the two teams at the bottom of the standings that have no shot of making the postseason.

Northwestern, which lost to Penn State and has a win over Michigan State in East Lansing, beat Ohio State at home Wednesday to continue to prove the Big Ten's depth from No. 1 to No. 9. "Depth" and "competitive balance" are decent words to describe the league (notice I didn't use "stellar" or "simply grand" or "great" to describe anything about the Big Ten).

"The league is good to where anybody can beat anybody," DeChellis said. "There's a buzz that's been created. No one is going to run away with the league. Michigan State looked like the front-runner [and then lost badly at Purdue] and they still have a game left with Purdue and Illinois. There's still a lot left to see how the Big Ten works out."

Penn State is hardly safe. The Nittany Lions have four games left -- at Ohio State on Tuesday, Indiana and Illinois at home, and at Iowa. DeChellis said he would like a split at the very least. It that happens, Penn State is 10-8 in the Big Ten heading to Indianapolis with quality wins within the conference.

Penn State hasn't been to the NCAA tournament under DeChellis. The last appearance was a rare Sweet 16 in 2001 under Jerry Dunn.

To ensure the Nittany Lions can win these games, DeChellis, beginning with the win over Illinois, had Penn State go back to Defense 101. The Nittany Lions hunkered down on defensive drills to ensure they could defend. Clearly they did against the Illini.

"All I know is that if we keep winning games it will be hard to keep us out of the tournament," DeChellis said.

• UNLV's NCAA hopes took a damaging blow with a 77-68 loss at Wyoming to drop to 7-5 in the MWC, 19-7 overall.

• Utah State's road loss to Boise State got worse once the Broncos lost at home to Idaho on Wednesday night. At 6-6, the Vandals are now just a game behind Boise State in the conference standings but are 12-13 overall.

• Notre Dame at Providence on Saturday could be a bubble elimination game. The Irish and the Friars both lost Wednesday night. A loss to Notre Dame would put PC at 8-7, 16-11, with the only real hope of getting any at-large attention coming in the form of a win over Pitt when the Panthers visit Feb. 24. Notre Dame would slip to 5-9, 14-12 with a loss and would probably have to knock off Connecticut on the road.

Tyler Zeller moved well for North Carolina in the win over NC State. If he continues to improve, the Tar Heels will be even tougher to defend.

• Tennessee lost again, this time to Ole Miss, and it hardly seems like news anymore. The Volunteers dropped to 7-4 in the SEC East and a very average 16-9 overall.

• Give Auburn coach Jeff Lebo credit for rising above some of the mediocrity this season and getting the Tigers to 6-5 in the SEC West so far, 17-9 overall.

• No other way to say it: Miami (15-10, 4-8), Maryland (16-9, 5-6) and Virginia Tech (16-9, 6-5) are facing some must-win games in the next week. All three lost Wednesday night; the worst of the bunch was the Hokies, who fell to rival Virginia. Here's the problem: Virginia Tech's next three games are home against Florida State, at Clemson and home versus Duke. Miami's next game is against Boston College, while Maryland hosts North Carolina and Duke.

• Northeastern finally gave away first place in the CAA. The past two times the Huskies lost, so too did VCU. This time NU let Georgia State come into Boston and take away a 70-68 win on a buzzer-beating layup by Ousman Krubally as time expired. The loss dropped Northeastern to 11-5, tied with George Mason for second behind VCU, which moved to 12-4 with a win over Delaware.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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