Illini in bal­anc­ing act

No go-to guy emerges, but Richardson leads five in dou­ble fig­ures

Chicago Sun-Times - - Sports - BY MARK BREN­NAN

UNI­VER­SITY PARK, Pa. — Illi­nois coach Bruce We­ber still hasn’t found a go-to guy. But in a 77-67 win over Penn State be­fore 8,085 fans Wed­nes­day night at the Bryce Jor­dan Cen­ter, he didn’t need one.

The Illini (13-8, 5-3 Big Ten) used a bal­anced scor­ing at­tack that saw five dif­fer­ent play­ers reach dou­ble fig­ures to snap a three-game los­ing streak for their third road win of the sea­son. The Nit­tany Lions (8-12, 0-8) re­mained win­less in the Big Ten af­ter their eighth straight loss.

‘‘We got a lot bet­ter bal­ance and maybe we’re start­ing to make some strides,’’ said We­ber, who lamented the lack of a ‘‘go-to guy’’ af­ter a loss at North­west­ern on Satur­day. ‘‘But it’s just one game.’’

Illi­nois was reel­ing mid­way through the sec­ond half af­ter Penn State ral­lied from a 40-33 deficit at the break to move ahead 51-48 on cen­ter An­drew Jones’ stick-back. But Illini guard D.J. Richardson coun­tered with a 16-footer, fol­lowed by Bill Cole’s three-pointer and Mike Davis’ base­line jumper.

And just like that, Illi­nois was back in con­trol, lead­ing 55-51 with 7:58 left as three dif­fer­ent play­ers made clutch shots. Richardson fin­ished with a team-high 20 points, while Cole had a ca­reer-high 12 and Davis 11. Mike Tis­dale and Bran­don Paul fin­ished with 10 each.

The Nit­tany Lions had no an­swer to the key spurt. Af­ter hit­ting 5 of 7 shots to start the sec­ond half, they made only two shots in the next six min­utes. We­ber was as happy with the de­fen­sive ef­fort as he was with the of­fen­sive bal­ance.

‘‘We talked about the dif­fer­ence be­tween the three losses in a row and three [con­sec­u­tive] wins be­fore that [be­ing] to­tally de­fense,’’ he said. ‘‘We said, ‘Guys, if you are go­ing to have a chance to win the game, you’ve got to get stops.’ ”

Illi­nois never led by more than 10 points in the fi­nal five min­utes, but Penn State never made a se­ri­ous run, ei­ther.

Illi­nois’ lead­ing scorer, guard Demetri McCamey, was held in check. Af­ter torch­ing Penn State for 25 in a win at As­sem­bly Hall on Jan. 12, he made only 1 of 7 shots Wed­nes­day.

But the one he made was a three­p­oint shot-clock beater with 2:00 left that boosted the Illini’s lead to 64-54. McCamey fin­ished with six points and nine as­sists — one off his sea­son high, with eight com­ing in the first half.

Talor Bat­tle led Penn State with 20 points and was joined in dou­bles by Chris Babb (18) and David Jack­son (13). The rest of the Nit­tany Lions com­bined for 16 points.

RALPH WIL­SON~AP

For­ward Do­minique Keller, who fin­ished with six points, looks to the bas­ket in the sec­ond half of Illi­nois’ victory at Penn State.

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