Late Rally Falls Short Against #14 Penn State
Jan. 9, 2014
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois led the entire first half but No. 14 Penn State shot 63 percent from the field and made nine more free throws than the Illini attempted as the Lady Lions overcame an early 12-point deficit to win, 82-76, at State Farm Center on Thursday. Illinois finished the game on a 15-3 run over the final 3:06, holding PSU to only three free throws over that span. The Orange and Blue fall to 7-8 on the season, dipping below .500 for the first time since the first game of the year, and 0-2 in the Big Ten.
Junior guard Ivory Crawford continued her hot streak, scoring 25 points on 8-of-13 shooting, dishing seven assists and pulling down five rebounds in 34 minutes. Jacqui Grant had 15 points, six boards and four steals before fouling out, and Amber Moore and Alexis Smith each had 12 points.
"I'm proud of our team," Illinois head coach Matt Bollant said. "We talked about trying to show that we're all-in and let's start the game by bringing the fight to them and attacking, then continue to fight and continue to give throughout the game. There haven't been many losses here at Illinois where I felt like we really fought, we just weren't good enough with execution, and I really felt more of that today than any loss we've had.
"Give Penn State credit, I think they're a special team. But I'm really proud of our team. I thought Ivory was really special tonight. And we were active; to be up 12 in the turnover margin is a great stat."
The Illini shot 40.9 percent from the field, marking only the second time that Illinois has shot 40 percent or better and lost. UI made 10-of-35 three-pointers, its fifth game this season with 10 or more treys, and forced Penn State into a season high-tying 27 turnovers. Illinois converted those miscues into 35 points and allowed PSU to score only nine points off 15 Illini turnovers. The difference in the game came at the charity stripe as Penn State made 29-of-35 (82.9 percent) compared to 12-of-20 (60 percent) by the Illini, as Illinois was whistled for 10 more fouls than the Lady Lions.
The Fighting Illini stormed out to an early 10-2 lead thanks to quick three-pointers by Ivory Crawford and Nia Oden, and a pair of buckets by Jacqui Grant. After making its first shot, Penn State missed its next four and committed four turnovers in the first 4:11.
Illinois pushed the lead to 17-5 when Amber Moore hit a trey at the 12:45 mark and Illinois' "buzz" defense flustered Penn State throughout the half. But the Lady Lions responded after absorbing the first punch, using an 8-2 run that included three-pointers from Maggie Lucas and Dara Taylor to pull within 23-19.
The Illini responded, though, as Grant made a layup and Alexis Smith drained a three-pointer to push the margin back to 28-19 with 4:54 remaining. But Penn State finished the half on a 12-4 run, cutting the Orange and Blue's margin to 32-31 at halftime. Grant had a team-high 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting in the half as the Illini forced 12 turnovers and had 10 assists on 13 made field goals.
PSU made the first shot of the second half but Illinois went on a 6-2 spurt to lead 38-35 after a trey by Moore with 17:53 left. But the Lady Lions scored seven straight points to pull ahead 42-38. Illinois got a free throw from Crawford and a nifty layup from Moore in transition after a behind-the-back dribble to get past Taylor, cutting PSU's lead to 42-41.
The Lady Lions followed Moore's layup with a trey from Lucas, though, then got back-to-back three-point plays sandwiched around a Crawford putback layup for a 51-43 lead with 14:18 left. PSU scored the next six points, capping the run at 15-2 when Alexis Smith hit another trey. Crawford nailed two free throws to pull within nine at 57-48, but Penn State scored 10 of the next 13 points to push the lead to 67-51 with 8:11 left.
PSU kept the Illini at arm's length for most of the rest of the game, extending the margin to as much as 19 at 77-58 with 4:47 remaining, but something clicked with Illinois at the three-minute mark and the Orange and Blue began a late rally. Crawford hit two free throws with 2:39 left and Grant made 1-of-2, cutting the deficit to 15. PSU's Ariel Edwards mad 1-of-2 from the line and Crawford matched that at the other end.
After a Lady Lion turnover with just under two minutes left, Taylor Gleason drained a jumper then Moore stole a pass near halfcourt and found Alexis Smith for a layup. She was fouled and made the free throw, cutting the margin to 80-70 with 1:27 left. Lucas missed a three and PSU got an offensive rebound, but Smith poked it away from Talia East. Moore found Gleason on the right wing for a three-pointer - her first since Nov. 17 - and the Illini were within seven with 43 seconds left.
East was whistled for an offensive foul and Smith drained another trey with 23 seconds on the clock, pulling Illinois within 80-76. The Illini needed to foul but Penn State was able to beat the defensive pressure for nearly 15 seconds before Smith fouled Lucas, who drained two free throws and put the game away as PSU won, 82-76.
The Illini finish their three-game home-stand Sunday when they host No. 16 Nebraska at 1 p.m. in the annual Pack the House game. All fans receive free admission and parking, the first 150 fans receive courtside seats and the first 2,000 fans receive paper crowns to help break the world record for most people wearing a paper crown at one time.