Malcolm Hill put the Illini on his back, but not even a herculean 39-point performance could get Illinois out of Happy Valley with a win.
The regular-season finale went to a pair of overtimes, but it was Penn State pulling out the win, sending Illinois to an 86-79 loss on Saturday afternoon.
With the defeat, the Illini earned the No. 12 seed in next week's Big Ten Tournament.
Hill's 39 points were the seventh most in a single game in Illinois hoops history and the most since Brandon Paul dropped 43 against Ohio State in 2012.
It was a strong first half for both sides, offensively. Illinois shot 52 percent from the field, with Penn State shooting 51.7 percent. The difference came from 3-point range, where the Lions were 5-for-9 and the Illini just 1-for-4. Hill scored 15 in the first half, while Shep Garner had 11 — including a trio of made triples — for Penn State.
That hot shooting only continued for one side after the break, however, with Penn State streaking out to a double-digit lead as Illinois scored just nine points in the first 10 minutes of the second half. But the Illini closed that gap thanks to Hill shouldering the load with an assist from an out-of-nowhere performance by Khalid Lewis. The grad transfer scored five straight points and came away with two steals in a crucial stretch to bring Illinois within a point at 63-62. After a pair of Hill free throws put the Illini momentarily in front, Lewis banked in a bucket to give Illinois a 66-65 lead with under a minute to play. Illinois led 67-65 with 20 seconds left, but Garner scored to tie the game, though his missed free throw sent the game to overtime.
Hill and Garner traded go-ahead 3-pointers in the extra period, and the Illini picked a mighty inopportune time to go on one of their patented scoreless stretches. But Hill knocked down two game-tying free throws with 20 seconds remaining to force a second overtime. That's when Penn State pulled away, outscoring Illinois, 14-7, in that period.
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After that 52-percent first half, the Illini finished with a 40.3-percent shooting mark on the game. They were just 4-for-16 from 3-point range. The Lions also cooled off after halftime, finishing the game at 44.8 percent from the field, but they did damage from behind the arc, going 10-for-23 on 3s.
Hill and Lewis accounted for the vast majority of the scoring for Illinois. Hill's career day was the big story, but Lewis' 10 points were the most he's scored in an Illini uniform. Kendrick Nunn and Maverick Morgan both had abysmal days shooting the ball, perhaps the team's ultimate downfall Saturday. Nunn scored nine points on 3-for-15 shooting — including 1-for-6 on 3s — and Morgan had eight points on 3-for-14 shooting.
Garner and Brandon Taylor had big games for Penn State, scoring 22 and 21 points, respectively, with Garner hitting four 3-pointers. Josh Reaves scored 13 points, and Donovon Jack had 10.
The loss was a troubling one for Illinois, knocking it down to the No. 12 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. The Illini wrapped their disappointing regular season at 13-18 overall and 5-13 in conference play with losses in four of their last five games.
Penn State's win took the program to new heights under Patrick Chambers, the overall record improving to 16-15 and 7-11 in conference play. The Lions will be the No. 10 seed in next week's league tournament.