STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Senior Josh Reaves scored a career-high 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead Penn State over Illinois 72-56 on Sunday.
Reaves made 10 of 17 field goals including a career-best 6 of 10 from 3-point range to lead the Nittany Lions in a game they led for all but 3:23 of the second half.
Lamar Stevens added 16 points for the Nittany Lions (14-17, 7-13 Big Ten), who won their second in a row and earned a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament with Indiana’s win over Rutgers.
Ayo Dosunmo and Giorgi Bezhanishvili scored 16 points apiece for Illinois (11-20, 7-13).
Penn State trailed 32-31 at halftime but Reaves made sure that didn’t stick. He scored 11 of Penn State’s first 16 points in the second and his fourth 3-pointer gave Penn State a lead it wouldn’t relinquish just over three minutes into the half.
The Nittany Lions pulled away to lead by as many as 14.
After both teams traded baskets in the opening minutes of the game, Illinois used a 14-7 run and led 19-12 midway through the half. The Nittany Lions had gone 1-for-12 from 3-point range to that point but got three in a row from Reaves and Rasir Bolton before a 3-point play from Stevens put Penn State up 26-25.
The Illini ended the first half with an 8-5 run that included a pair of 3-pointers from Dosunmo.
THE BIG PICTURE
Illinois: The Illini lost five of six to end the regular season and will play in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. They entered with a chance to be seeded as high as eighth had they beaten Penn State and gotten some help.
Penn State: Since February started the Nittany Lions have looked much more like the team that ran roughshod through the NIT field last March rather than the one that started 0-10 in the Big Ten. They finished the regular season with seven wins in 10 games and have a shot to keep their momentum going in Chicago.
Both teams will play in the Big Ten tournament in Chicago starting Wednesday.