Hicks makes late free throws as Penn State upsets No. 12 Illinois

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — While Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center might hold three times as many fans as the program’s rickety old Rec Hall, the nearly 100-year-old facility was at its atmospheric best Wednesday night — at No. 12 Illinois’ expense.

Zach Hicks made three free throws after being fouled on a 3-pointer with three seconds left to give Penn State a 90-89 victory over Illinois. After Illinois’ Justin Harmon missed a final layup, fans stormed the court clad in blue and white, shaking pompoms and holding giant cutouts of coach Mike Rhoades’ head.

Rhoades leapt into bleachers stands to celebrate with family. His players were mobbed by their fans and classmates who reveled in the rare chance to storm Rec Hall’s old court.

“I’ve been doing this for a while, I’m just a super proud coach tonight,” Rhoades said. “I’m just really, really proud of our guys.”

Penn State played basketball at the 6,500-seat Rec Hall until moving to Bryce Jordan Center and its 16,000-plus capacity in 1996. Before Wednesday, the Nittany Lions had returned to their original home three times and went 2-1 in those nonconference games.

Nick Kern Jr. scored a career-high 22 points, and Hicks and Qudus Wahab added 13 apiece to help Penn State (13-14, 7-9 Big Ten) overcome a 14-point deficit in the second half. The Nittany Lions snapped a three-game losing streak.

Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 19 of his 35 points in the second half for Illinois (19-7, 10-5). Marcus Domask added 15 points.

After struggling to keep up with Penn State’s speedy offense to start, the Illini settled down midway through the first half and controlled play for much of the second, but couldn’t hold on to multiple double-digit leads.

Illinois led 48-41 at halftime and Shannon scored six points in the first 3:59 of the second to give the Illini their biggest lead of the night 61-47.

Boosted by 13 straight points from Kern — and a surging crowd — Penn State cut the deficit to 10 with 12:28 to play. Jameel Brown and Hicks team for five 3-pointers over the final 12:03, with Brown cutting to four with 35 seconds left. Puff Johnson’s jumper made it 87-89.

“They never quit, they never laid down,” Underwood said. “Tremendous atmosphere and environment, wish we were back in the (Bryce Jordan Center). That created a nice buzz and atmosphere.”

Penn State got a rebound after a pair of missed free throws from Coleman Hawkins to set up Hicks’ last try from deep.

“I wouldn’t say it was the plan, but obviously, a 3 is worth more,” Hicks said. “I pump faked and the dude jumped.”


The Illini made mistake after mistake as the second half wore on. They committed 13 of their 18 turnovers in the second and made just 42.9% of their field goals in that span.

Their defense was leakiest in the final minutes where Penn State finished on an 8-2 run

“We did just about everything wrong in the last two and a half minutes and they made shots,” Underwood said. “Can’t give up 55% field goal percentage in the second half and win.”


Penn State: The Nittany Lions were able to find their rhythm in spurts and finally sustained it over the final 10 minutes. Kern showed off his scoring ability with a big second half and the Nittany Lions will need more of that from him after leading scorer Kanye Clary was booted off the team this month.


Illinois: Hosts Iowa on Saturday.

Penn State: Hosts Indiana on Saturday.


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