Penn State won a thriller against Illinois 64-63, leaving the #2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament wide open between these two and Purdue. Talor Battle's shot with 0.3 seconds remaining gave the Nittany Lions their first lead since the opening minutes and after Mike Tisdale's pass went for naught, the students rushed the floor. A fitting way to end possibly Penn State's best-ever regular season, which saw them win narrow game after narrow game. Stanley Pringle led the Nittany Lions with 20 points on 11 shots, while Demetri McCamey had 16 points on 13 shots as well as 7 assists. Box score.
In my mind, Penn State's ticket to the Dance was punched a week or two ago, but I think this puts it beyond dispute. Right now, the Lions are more concerned with seeding in the Big Ten Tournament. For the #2 seed, they need Michigan State to beat Purdue and they need to win at Iowa. Illinois would need both Purdue and Penn State to lose, while Purdue "just" needs to win at Michigan State to lock it up. Both the #2 and #3 seeds get to play a team coming off a game the day before, and each of these teams can fall anywhere between 2 and 4 at this point (Penn State could actually fall further depending on what the rest of the conference does). Should make for a lot of nail-biting.
Unlike their last meeting, the Illini actually shot a free throw in this one. Maybe that came as a surprise to Bruce Weber's team, who only converted 2 of their 7 attempts at the stripe. A few of these misses came down the stretch, which allowed Penn State back into the game. None was more crucial than Mike Davis' missed front end of a 1 and 1 which set up Battle's end-to-end game winner. For every hero, there is a goat.
This weekend, Michigan visits Minnesota, with both teams fighting for their tournament lives (probably moreso for Michigan). Penn State visits Iowa to try and lock up a first round bye, Purdue attempts to do the same at Michigan State, Northwestern will try and steal one in Columbus to keep their Dance hopes alive, and Indiana visits the Kohl Center. March Madness is upon us.