The last time No. 7 Penn State was on the road, it fell to Nebraska in a five-set heartbreaker.
In fact, the Nittany Lions only have two road wins over ranked opponents this season, the last of which came against then-No. 17 Purdue on October 10.
On Saturday, Penn State once again was once again unable to come up with a signature victory away from the friendly confines of Rec Hall.
In one of the best matches of Big Ten conference season, the Nittany Lions got off to a hot start, before dropping three of the next four frames en route to a five-set defeat at the hands of No. 4 Illinois (25-15, 22-25, 25-27, 25-23, 13-15) in front of a sold out crowd inside Huff Hall in Champaign.
With the loss, Penn State falls to 20-6 on the season. The Nittany Lions have now lost three of their last five matches, bringing their record to 11-5 for the Big Ten season and putting them into a tie for third place in the conference standings.
The win was the ninth straight for the Illini, who are currently one of the hottest teams in the country heading into the final two weekends of Big Ten play and the NCAA Tournament.
This was also just the third time in the last 12 matches that Illinois has beaten Penn State. The Nittany Lions lead the all-time series 45-11, and hadn’t lost to the Illini since 2014 before Saturday’s match.
There were some positives to take away from the match for Penn State.
Playing against one of the best setters in the country in Jordyn Poulter, senior setter Bryanna Weiskircher more than held her own throughout the match and continued to play at an All-American level.
The veteran looked calm and confident throughout the night and it showed in her play.
Weiskircher finished with 51 assists on the evening, in addition to posting 12 digs and four blocks.
Her counterpart on the other side of the net was terrific as well. Poulter turned in a double-double as well as she tallied 55 assists to go along with seven kills and 13 digs for the match.
Penn State’s top two attackers were busy all evening and their numbers reflected that.
Outside hitters Jonni Parker and Nia Reed combined for 31 kills and 10 digs to lead the offensive charge for the Nittany Lions.
On defense, it was once again junior libero Kendall White who turned in a strong performance. White lead all players with 32 digs, and added two service aces to help the Nittany Lions push one of the best teams in the nation to the brink.
Penn State was firing on all cylinders in the opening set, while Illinois looked out of sorts on offense. This lead to a fairly easy set for the Nittany Lions, but that was the only routine set in this match.
The two middle frames were both captured by Illinois, and each were defined by a couple of key points that the hosts were able to win and secure victories in both sets.
In what could have been the defining moment in the match, Penn State had two chances to close out the third set but Illinois saved both and went on to take a 2-1 lead in the contest.
The momentum shifted in favor of the hosts and it looked like the Illini were going to be able to take the match in four sets.
However, the Nittany Lions forced the decider thanks to the play of Reed and graduate transfer Taylor Leath, along with a couple of key errors from Illinois, one of which came on set point.
In the fifth and final frame, Penn State held the early advantage and was hitting .500 for the set at one point.
The teams continued to trade blows throughout the set, before the visitors took a 12-11 lead on the backs of an Illinois service error.
It looked as though that mistake could propel the Nittany Lions to a statement road victory.
However, once again the Illini showed their poise and Penn State could not hold its composure as two consecutive errors from Leath gave the lead back to the home side.
Two points later, a block by Poulter sealed the match.