Penn State-Illinois: Beyond the Boxscore

Andrew KahnCorrespondent IFebruary 19, 2009

I probably shouldn't be writing this article. I don't want to publicize the fact that two Big Ten teams scored a combined total of 71 points last night. But I feel compelled as a sports journalist to comment on what was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

When I logged onto a certain sports news website last night, I figured the score was wrong. Or, even though the game was long since completed, that I was looking at the halftime score.

The reason I thought the latter was probable is because this particular sports news website decided to change its design again (hey, we can't see the game's stat leaders anymore, but at least we get the schools' logos!).

After a few extra clicks, though, I realized there was no mistake. The final score was indeed Penn State 38, Illinois 33.

The box score blew my mind. I couldn't stop staring at it. Everywhere you look, there are numbers you don't expect to see for a 40-minute Division I game.

  • 13-46 (Penn State's FGM-A)
  • 15-50 (Illinois' FGM-A)
  • 6 (Illinois' assists)
  • 3-17 (Penn State's 3PM-A)
  • 3-16 (Illinois' 3PM-A)
  • 0-0 (Illinois' FTM-A)

That's a combined 29 percent from the field, including 6-of-33 from downtown, both pathetic numbers. But perhaps the most glaring is that Illinois did not attempt a single free throw. How is that possible? It's incredible that Penn State didn't commit one shooting foul the entire game. But if the guys I was playing against couldn't shoot, I wouldn't give them the chance to go to the line either.

The Illinois football team only won five games this past season, but it still managed to score more than 33 four times. The Penn State football team exceeded 38 seven times. The Nittany Lions matched their basketball squad's total in their 38-24 win over the Illini this past September. The score at half of that game (21-14) was a higher combined total than the halftime score of last night's hoops contest.

Fans probably had a good idea from the onset that last night's game was going to be ugly. The first basket wasn't scored until under the 16:00 mark. Illinois had four points halfway through the opening frame. Penn State had 20 points with 10 minutes left in the game. Only one player—Penn State's Talor Battle—finished in double figures (11).

There's no way around the fact that is was an ugly, sloppy game. Even as a fan and advocate of the Big Ten conference, I must admit that. At the same time, I wish this score had occurred in some other conference.

The Big Ten bashers are likely going to jump on this, using it as an example of the conference's inferiority to, say, the Big East or ACC. The Big Ten has always been thought of as a defense-first league, and while defense certainly played an important role in last night's low-scoring affair, a roster full of Bill Russells shouldn't be able to hold a big-time program like Illinois to 33 points.

It won't help that the Illini are currently ranked No. 16, behind only Michigan State among Big Ten schools. The conference's critics are going to say, "This is the second best team this league has to offer?" But in reality, outside of the Spartans and a healthy Purdue team, there isn't much separation among the next seven best teams. 

While defense is stressed and low-scoring games may be more common in the Big Ten than in some of the other power conferences, last night was certainly an aberration. Both teams are averaging in the high 60s, and two embarrassingly woeful offensive performances (which happened to come on the same night, in the same game) should not represent any inefficiencies on behalf of the Big Ten as a whole.