UNIVERSITY PARK - The physics professors at Penn State and Illinois might have considered Thursday night's 54-52 Nittany Lion victory a good experiment on energy transfers.
Consider an old Newton's Law conclusion from this one objects at rest prefer to stay at rest unless acted on by an external force. Objects in motion? They prefer to stay that way, too.
That went for an Illinois team trying and failing to keep its spark from a win over No. 5 Ohio State in its last game, nine days ago, when guard Brandon Paul scored 43 points. It also went for a traditional dormant and half-capacity midweek crowd seated in the dim lighting of Jordan Center stands, one no doubt diminished by roads covered from the first measurable snowfall of the winter and 9 p.m. tip made for ESPN2.
The Nittany Lions (10-10, 2-5) are used to this environment. It is their home floor, and every so often they'll pull off the kind of win that sends its student section storming onto the court, as its done 2 of the past 3 years after beating the Illini (15-4, 4-2) here. There was none of that Thursday night after Jermaine Marshall blocked Sam Maniscalco's driving layup attempt to tie as time expired.
Penn State created enough energy from a public show practice one day before and used it to beat the Illini for the fourth time in their last 5 meetings and snap a 3-game skid.
Tim Frazier put Penn State up with 8 seconds to go on a running right-hander after two Lion timeouts on the same possession. Penn State coach Pat Chambers stared at Frazier with mouth agog as the second timeout was called, apparently expecting something different. But the Lions regrouped and retook a lead they'd held almost the entire second half.
Cammeron Woodyard led the Lions with 17 points, while Frazier scored 12.
Paul scored 20 for Illinois. Meyers Leonard, whose 7-foot-1 frame caused matchup problems down low, had 15 before fouling out, though Jon Graham did a credible job on defense despite spotting 4 inches.
The Lions took a 25-23 lead into the half after a 16-6 run over the 10 minutes of the half. A Woodyard dunk off a Jermaine Marshall steal and a Woodyard three to follow ignited the charge.
Tim Frazier sank two technical foul free throws for the Lions' first lead at 21-20 after a collision with the Ilini's Joseph Bertrand under the basket that sent knocked him toward photographers' row.
That lead grew to 31-23 early in the second half as an Illinois scoring drought lasted nearly 8 minutes over halftime. A Sasa Borovnjak low post score gave the Lions a 35-26 edge with 14:33 to go, their biggest of the game.
Frazier sat after picking up his fourth foul on a charge with 5 minutes to play. Paul had cut Illinois' deficit to one for the third time in the second half on the previous possession, but Illinois never assumed the lead, or even tied the game during his absence. In fact, Woodyard's 18-foot jumper one possession and two free throws later made it a 52-47 game before Illinois finally tied it at 52 with 34 seconds to go, well after Frazier had returned.
Penn State coach Pat Chambers argued Frazier's charge to no avail, and he returned to his seat after being given a hand stop sign and Frazier patted him on the shoulder.