CHAMPAIGN – Brandon Paul scored 14 points and D.J. Richardson overcame a shoulder injury to add 11 and help 10th-ranked Illinois hold off Norfolk State 64-54 on Tuesday night.
The Illini (11-0) were coming of a win at Gonzaga on Saturday that helped move them into the top 10. Illinois was shooting 46 percent from the field coming in but was just 35 percent (21 for 60) against the Spartans. The Illini were 6 for 23 (26 percent) on 3-pointers and 16 for 27 (59 percent) from the free-throw line.
Rashid Gaston scored 12 points and Pendarvis Williams added 11 for Norfolk State (6-6), which led for much of the first half.
Gaston had a chance to tie the score at 49 with just less than eight minutes to play. The forward launched a turnaround jumper in the lane that found nothing but Sam McLaurin’s outstretched hand and Illinois clung to its 2-point lead.
A minute later Richardson fired in a 3-pointer from the top of the key that put Illinois up 52-47. He finally secured the win with a layup that put the Illini up 56-51 with just less than two minutes to play.
Richardson left the game late in the first half after a collision that sent him to the floor. He skipped second-half warm-ups after what the Illinois sports information director said was a badly bruised shoulder but came back early in the half. He played 13 minutes in the second half and scored 7 key points
The Illini opened a 10-point lead at 39-29 in the second half’s opening minutes. Five of those points came on a 3-pointer and a short jumper from Tracy Abrams.
Abrams collided with Malcolm Hawkins in the final three minutes and, like Richardson earlier, limped off the court. He returned about a minute later but had what coach John Groce said was a bruised shin.
The Spartans led much of the first half after opening a 5-0 lead on two baskets by Williams.