No. 13 Illini Outlast Western Carolina, 72-64
Dec. 4, 2012
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Brandon Paul scored 14 points and No. 13 Illinois earned a 72-64 win over Western Carolina on Tuesday.
Western Carolina tied the game at 54-54 with 5:53 left.
Illinois guard D.J. Richardson hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions for a 62-56 lead. Richardson finished with 13 points.
After a Western Carolina turnover, Illini guard Tracy Abrams made two free throws and a basket on the following possession for a 66-56 lead. Abrams added 10 points for the Illini, who shot 40 percent for the game.
"One area where we did get it done is we were able to win the game because we were able to make big plays," Illinois coach John Groce said.
Guard Preston Ross paced the Catamounts (3-6) with 17 points. James Sinclair added 13 points and eight rebounds. Guard Brandon Boggs added 16 points off the bench.
The Illini (9-0) play at No. 10 Gonzaga on Saturday. It's the Illini's first meeting against a ranked opponent.
"I've been told (Gonzaga coach Mark Few) thinks it's his best team," Groce said. "That's a great environment. It's an exciting challenge, a national TV game against a top 10 team."
Illinois was 3 of 14 from the field to start the game, but the Illini stretched the lead to 32-22 at halftime with a 15-8 run to end the half.
"You have to have a better start, a better first half," Richardson said. "We always play half a game and have spurts where we play good and spurts where we play bad. We have to be tough. They out toughed us."
The Catamounts kept the game close despite 22 turnovers.
The game served as a reunion for Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter and Illini assistant Dustin Ford, who played for Hunter at Ohio and coached under him at Western Carolina.
Ford worked at Western Carolina for three seasons, concluding in 2008. He then returned to Ohio, where he joined Jim Groce's staff before moving with Groce to Illinois prior to this season.
Western Carolina fell to 1-14 all-time against teams from the Big Ten Conference.