Penn St. Nittany Lions vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Pick & Prediction FEBRUARY 21st 2024

Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama spoke there. Penn State’s gymnastics, volleyball and top-ranked wrestling teams continue to win there. On Wednesday, the Nittany Lions men’s basketball team will return to Rec Hall in University Park, Pa., for the first time since Dec. 12, 2015.

No. 12 Illinois (19-6, 10-4 Big Ten) is the visiting team that must play in the 6,502-seat bandbox that will provide a much better home-court advantage for Penn State (12-14, 6-9) than the cavernous Bryce Jordan Center that has served as the Nittany Lions’ primary floor since opening in 1996.

Penn State hasn’t hosted a Big Ten game at Rec Hall since pounding Wisconsin 79-50 on Jan. 7, 1996.

However, the talk in the arena Wednesday won’t just be about old games at Rec Hall, it will also be about how leading scorer Kanye Clary is no longer a part of the Penn State program. Coach Mike Rhoades announced Monday that Clary (16.7 points per game) is gone due to a “coach’s decision.”

“We’ll move forward and focus on the task at hand. It came to a point where as a coach, I decided to move on,” Rhoades said.

Clary contributed little during Penn State’s current three-game losing streak. He did not travel for Saturday’s loss at Nebraska. Prior to that, the swift left-handed point guard played 14 scoreless minutes on Feb. 11 at Northwestern and posted eight points and five assists in a Valentine’s Day home loss to Michigan State.

Considering Penn State scored just 49 points at Nebraska — 12 points fewer than its previous low this season — Clary’s departure does not come at an optimal time.

Penn State might be able to find better footing against an Illinois defense that has surrendered 83, 73, 96, 75, 88 and 80 points in its six Big Ten road games in 2024. On the flip side, the Fighting Illini averaged 84.8 points while going 3-3 in those games — including an 85-80 win at Maryland on Saturday.

Not only did Illinois succeed in an intimidating arena — Fighting Illini coach Brad Underwood called Maryland “as tough of an environment as there is in the Big Ten” — but Terrence Shannon Jr. continued to prove that he has resumed his role as perhaps the league’s best two-way player.

Shannon has racked up 86 points over the past three games, including a 30-of-34 showing at the free-throw line, and he also blocked four shots against the Terrapins. Three of them came while hawking all-Big Ten point guard Jahmir Young.

“He’s been a great teammate, and he almost tried too hard not to mess things up or not to be so assertive,” Underwood said, referencing Shannon’s initial struggles after missing a month due to suspension. “People laugh, but we don’t run much to Terrence. It’s just kind of how he scores the basketball in transition, at the foul line, driving the basketball.

“We try to create space for him, but what he’s done defensively is where he’s made the jump since he’s been back.”

–Field Level Media

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