Illini hold on, top Lions

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) – D.J. Richardson started slow Thursday but finished with 18 points and hit a pair of key free throws late in Illinois’ ugly 64-59 win over Penn State.

The win was the fifth straight for Illinois (20-8, 7-7 Big Ten). But facing a team that hadn’t won since late December, it didn’t come easy.

Jermaine Marshall’s 3-pointer brought Penn State within 62-59 with 5 seconds left. Richardson then sank a pair of free throws that sealed the win.

Penn State (8-18, 0-14) has lost 14 straight. Marshall led the Nittany Lions with 20 points. Travis Ross and Kevin Montminy fouled out late.

On Thursday, every Penn State rally – often accompanied by a cold stretch from Illinois – threatened to undo much of the good of those wins.

Free throws finally sealed the win. The Nittany Lions committed 31 fouls and sent the Illini to the line 36 times. Illinois made 23, including eight by Richardson in nine trips to the line.

On Thursday, though, Penn State showed a little of why they are plagued by losses.

Down 29-20 at the end of a brutal first half, the Nittany Lions went on a 10-2 run to open the second. Eight of those points came from Marshall, the last of them on a 3-pointer with 15:40 to play that pulled Penn State to within 31-30.

Then, with Illinois unable to find the bucket, Penn State coughed up the ball on back-to-back possessions, wasting two chances to pull ahead. Paul made them pay, draining a 3-pointer for a 34-40 lead with 14:04 to play.

Penn State turned the ball over 16 times in all.

Illinois now heads to No. 7 Michigan on Sunday before coming home to face Nebraska next week. Penn State gets a break before trying again for its first conference win Wednesday at home against the Wolverines.