The Spartans started the toughest stretch of their non-conference season by throwing a scare into the Fighting Illini, but No. 10 Illinois got 25 combined points from Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson to hold off Norfolk State.
Paul led the way with 14 points and Richardson finished with 11, even though he suffered a shoulder contusion late in the first half and played through the pain in the second period.
Rashid Gaston scored 12 points and Pendarvis Williams added 11 for Norfolk State (6-6), which had its four-game win streak snapped. The trip to Champaign kicked off a stretch of five straight on the road for the Spartans, which begins with back-to-back games against nationally ranked teams. NSU meets No. 25 N.C. State Saturday night.
Norfolk State actually led for most of the first half, but scored just three points in the final 3:33 of the frame to let Illinois (11-0) take a 32-29 lead heading into intermission. The Illini stayed in front for the entire second half, letting Norfolk State get as close as two points on a couple of occasions.
Momentum swung for good inside the three-minute mark. Brandon Gaston made a layup to pull the Spartans within 54-51 with 2:30 showing, but Gaston committed a turnover in transition after Fuentes plucked a steal. The replay did indicate the ball went out on Richardson instead of Gaston, but after the giveaway, the Illini scored 10 of the game's final 13 points.
Gaston also led the Spartans with seven rebounds. Rob Johnson, named MEAC Defensive Player of the Week for the second straight week on Monday, finished with six points, five boards and five assists.
This was the first meeting on the hardwood between Norfolk State and Illinois.