Frazier’s layup gives Illinois 64-63 win over Penn St.
INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Illinois picked the right time to figure out how to win a close game.
Chester Frazier’s reverse layup with 3.8 seconds left gave the Fighting Illini a 64-63 win over Penn State on Thursday in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
Penn State’s Talor Battle had a final shot, but his long 3-pointer bounced off the backboard to give Illinois the victory.
The Illini had lost their last five games that had been decided by four points or fewer. Two of those losses had been against the Nittany Lions.
“It’s been so many games down the stretch where we’ve been up or down a point, and we let the game go,” Illinois center Shaun Pruitt said. “It’s good to be on the other side for once.”
Frazier’s shot came off an assist from Trent Meacham, who found Frazier open on the baseline.
“I was coming off a screen when Chester passed it to me, and my first thought was to shoot it,” Meacham said. “I was going to drive the middle and then Battle came up on me, so I dumped it down to Chester and I knew he was going to make it.”
Brian Randle led Illinois (14-18) with 17 points. Meacham scored 14 points and Pruitt had 10 points and 11 rebounds for the 10th-seeded Illini.
The Illini have won three of four heading into Friday’s quarterfinal matchup with No. 17 Purdue. Illinois coach Bruce Weber joked that he hoped Purdue coach Matt Painter would have mercy on his team.
“Well, if Matt is a good friend, he’ll start his walk-ons and let us advance,” Weber said. “He’s going to the NCAA tournament anyway, but I know it’s not going to be like that.”
Battle led Penn State (15-16) with 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists, and Stanley Pringle added 13 points for the seventh-seeded Nittany Lions.
Pringle made a 3-pointer to cut Illinois’ lead to 45-44 with about 15 minutes to play, but a 3-pointer by Frazier and a 3-point play by Randle pushed the lead back to 51-44.
A 3-pointer by Penn State’s Danny Morrissey cut Illinois’ lead to 56-52, but the Illini again bounced back. A pair of free throws by Randle, a layup by Demetri McCarney and a pair of free throws by Pruitt made it 62-52 with just under five minutes to play.
Penn State stormed back, and a layup by David Jackson cut Illinois’ lead to 62-59.
Randle fouled out while defending Battle on a drive, and Battle made both free throws to make it 62-61. The Nittany Lions finally took their first lead of the second half on two free throws by Andrew Jones with 2:04 to play.
Frazier’s winning basket was Illinois’ first in nearly six minutes, and the Illini’s first points since the 4:53 mark. Penn State switched from a 2-3 zone to a man-to-man defense in the closing minutes and nearly pulled off the win.
Penn State lost its top two scorers, Geary Claxton and Jamelle Cornley, to injuries this season. A squad that started four freshmen on Thursday pushed Illinois to its limit. Weber was impressed with what Penn State coach Ed DeChellis has been able to do with his shorthanded team.
“When you lose your two best players and you keep some semblance of order ——even today they got down 10 points and kept playing—— you have to give them so much credit,” Weber said. “Some years, I think he’d be recognized as coach of the year for what he’s done.”
Penn State had won three of four, including an upset over No. 18 Indiana on Sunday.
The comeback against Illinois gave the loss a bit of extra sting for the Nittany Lions, but it also gave them hope.
“Losing hurts, but I think this is a great step forward for us,” Battle said. “The past three games we’ve been starting four freshmen and a JUCO transfer. For us to come out and play so competitively against Indiana and Illinois is a great step.”