Illinois 68, Penn St. 50
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP)—Shaun Pruitt scored 20 points and Warren Carter added 17 as Illinois’ wide-body front line dominated Penn State in a 68-50 win on Saturday.
Brian Randle scored 10 points and held Nittany Lion scoring threat Geary Claxton in check for much of the afternoon for Illinois (21-9, 9-6 Big Ten), which needs wins to strengthen its NCAA tournament resume.
The Illini led the entire way Saturday, but took control in the second half. While defense might be their forte this season, their offense stepped up against Penn State (10-17, 1-13).
Pruitt hit a layup in the second half after stripping a rebound away from Penn State’s Mike Walker before Randle sailed through the Lion defense for a dunk that riled up about 50 noisy Illinois fans. Their bright orange shirts stood out in a sea of blue-and-white.
Pruitt hit another bucket after receiving a pass on the baseline from Chester Frazier to give Illinois a 57-41 lead with seven minutes left.
Mike Walker led the Lions with 14 points, a dozen of them off four second-half 3-pointers, and Claxton added 12 for Big Ten cellar-dweller Penn State, which lost its 13th straight.
Claxton struggled early and didn’t hit a bucket until late in the first half against an Illinois defense that holds conference opponents to 55.9 points a game, the stingiest mark in the Big Ten.
Meantime, Illinois’ starting front line controlled the inside and found close shots with crisp interior passing. Carter, Pruitt and Randle, who each stand at least 6-foot-8, combined for 47 points on 20-of-29 shooting.
The victory capped a week that was full of distractions for Illinois.
On Wednesday, the university retired the school’s longtime mascot, Chief Illinwek, which the NCAA had deemed an offensive use of American Indian imagery.
On Friday, 19-year-old sophomore Jamar Smith pleaded not guilty to charges of drunken driving and leaving the scene of an accident on Feb. 12 in which he and 19-year-old teammate Brian Carlwell were injured.