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Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions Make It Five Of Six With Blowout Of Illinois

on February 11, 2018 9:30 PM

All any team wants is a chance.

If you have a chance then you can control your own destiny. Come up short of your goals and you'll only have yourself to blame. 

But getting that chance is everything.

And on Sunday night the Nittany Lions continued to give themselves a chance for an improbable NCAA Tournament bid with a 74-52 road win over Illinois.

It didn't start out that easy though, perhaps on cue, Penn State made a game against an inferior opponent in a crucial moment harder than it needed to be for 20 minutes of play. Losing this game would have been the pinnacle of poorly timed defeats for a program plagued with them.  

Which made Penn State's win in and of itself not all that interesting or surprising.

In the second half the Nittany Lions relied on what you could see on paper to extend 37-36 halftime lead. Penn State is a bigger team, a faster team, a deeper team, a more athletic team. For a good long while that didn't show on the court, but by the time the clock ticked into the 25th and 30th minutes of regulation it became much clearer.

Josh Reaves dunked, Mike Watkins dunked, Tony Carr teased the notion of a triple-double with 15 points, six rebounds and six assists.

All five Penn State starters scored in double digits, Nazeer Bostick added seven more points off the bench. Penn State was the better team, and anyone who had seen the Nittany Lions and the Illini play prior to Sunday night knew this to be true. It just took a while for that to transpire on the court. All told Illinois would score 16 points in the second half.

Functionally the result gives Penn State its fifth win in six games and moves the Nittany Lions to 8-6 in Big Ten play and 18-9 overall. It's hard not to wonder what the conversations may have been if Penn State had won single-point losses to Wisconsin and Rider. It doesn't matter now, but if the Nittany Lions come up short on their postseason dreams, those will be some of the first of a handful of defeats that could and perhaps should have been avoided.

However that is in the past, and in the future lies a very real opportunity. Penn State will host Big Ten leading Ohio State on Thursday where the Nittany Lions could pick up another marquee win over the Buckeyes. Beyond that a trip to Purdue to face a woodchipper of a Boilermakers team. Then it's Michigan at the Bryce Jordan Center before finishing the regular season at Nebraska.

Because of Penn State's somewhat inconsistent nature it is hard to say with any certainty how the next two weeks will unfold. Harder still to know if there is a reasonable path to a NCAA postseason bid during a year where Big Ten wins carry less value and the national landscape is devoid of many elite powers.

But the Nittany Lions sit in mid February with a chance, and a for program that has seen those chances evaporate sometimes in the dead of winter, hope really does spring eternal.

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