Five weeks ago, the thought of a first round bye for Penn State at the Big Ten Tournament was absurd. Now, thanks to a 72-56 victory over Illinois, and Indiana's win over Rutgers, the Nittany Lions won't tip off in Chicago until Thursday evening.
Fittingly it was senior Josh Reaves who keyed the victory for Penn State in his final Jordan Center appearance. He not only had a career high 26 points, but in peak Reaves fashion, added 11 rebounds, four steals, and a block. Junior forward Lamar Stevens added 16 points and six boards.
It was an uneven opening half for the Lions as they struggled to find much of a rhythm with Illinois' zone defense and deliberate offense. At the break, the visiting Illini held a 32-31 lead. That did not last long, however.
Led by the effort on the defensive end, the Lions were able to create chances in transition and frustrated the Illini offense. A Reaves three, one of six he hit on the afternoon, gave Penn State the lead just 2:30 into the half, and they would not look back en route to the 16-point victory. In appropriate fashion, senior forward Deivis Zemgulis capped the scoring with a deep buzzer beating triple.
Penn State is locked in as the No. 10 seed in this week's tournament, and will face either Minnesota or Ohio State at 7 p.m. on Thursday. The game will air on BTN.