Illinois Basketball: Illini Fall to Penn State as the Parity Continues

James EvensCorrespondent IJanuary 19, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, PA - JANUARY 08:  Tim Frazier #23 of the Penn State Nittany Lions put up a shot over Verdell Jones III #12 of the Indiana Hoosiers during the first half at the Bryce Jordan Center on January 8, 2012 in State College, Pennsylvania. The Indiana Hoosiers won, 88-82. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Illinois Fighting Illini lost to Penn State tonight, 52-54, in a game that featured a lot of heroics by Penn State, and showed the country once again why the Big Ten is the best conference.

No one is safe, as shown by the upset victory against the No. 25-ranked Illini by the Nittany Lions.

With the Illini dropping once again to the Nittany Lions, they suffer their second loss in Big Ten play further opening up the race for the Big Ten title this season. 

In the loss, the Illini were led by Brandon Paul who put up an impressive stat line with 20 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.

The key point in the game that really closed the deal, however, had to be when sophomore sensation Meyers Leonard fouled out of the game. It was a huge turning point for the Nittany Lions, a smaller team, and allowed them to focus more on the perimeter defense.

After Tim Frazier's tear drop floater went in to give Penn State the lead, Illinois still had a shot at tying the game, but a missed layup opportunity by Sam Maniscalco ended the Illini's hopes.

This win by Penn State was not just huge for them but huge for the conference.

With Illinois falling, that now puts the conference in a five-way tie in the loss column for first place, something that is almost unheard of this far into the season.

If the Nebraska win last night, or the Iowa win in Wisconsin, wasn't a big enough indication of how tough this conference really is, this should prove it.

Almost halfway done with conference play, this is still anyone's race.