Malcolm Hill scores 27, makes winning basket, as Illinois edges Penn State
CHAMPAIGN — Saturday started with news of indefinite suspensions for two Illinois starters.
It ended on a more uplifting swing.
The Illini defeated Penn State 60-58 with a driving layup from Malcolm Hill in the closing seconds, a resounding and physical play that kept the team’s pulse beating in a drama-filled season.
“I’m proud of our guys for finding a way,” coach John Groce said.
The Illini (14-8, 4-5) had expected on Thursday to have leading scorer Rayvonte Rice (hand) and Aaron Cosby (eye) back from injuries for the Penn State game. Instead the two player sat on the bench in street clothes for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
Instead of feeling deflated by the possibility of bringing back two players to a short-handed roster, the Illini were lifted by Hill’s performance.
Hill scored 27 points, one off his career high against Maryland earlier this season, on 10-of-15 shooting. His added strength helped him finish against two defenders under the rim with 4.4 seconds left for the two-point lead.
“Finishes like that, I probably wouldn’t have finished that last year,” said Hill, a 6-foot-6 sophomore guard who added about 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason. “I was just going to take what the defense gave me. I didn’t want to just throw up anything. With two guys on me, I just wanted to attack and make something out of it.”
Hill had helped tie the game 58-58 with 57 seconds left on an assist to Nnanna Egwu for a hook shot. On the next possession, Penn State’s Devin Foster was called for an offensive foul.
After Hill’s game-deciding shot, Penn State guard D.J. Newbill drove the ball against Egwu but missed a layup at the buzzer.
Penn State (14-8, 2-7) has lost six Big Ten games by single digits.
Illinois teammates mobbed Hill in celebration at midcourt.
“Hill had a special performance,” Groce said. “He played really really hard.”
It was also a necessary performance.
The Illini shot only 31.5 percent on 2-point field goals, while making 8 of 15 3-pointers. Newbill, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, led Penn State with points.
The news of enduring a longer stretch without Rice and Cosby could have shaken the Illini.
“We’ve been playing without guys for a month now so everyone has to step up,” said point guard Jaylon Tate, who finished with five assists.
Groce did not reveal a timeline for the returns of Rice and Cosby as the Illini prepare to host Rutgers on Tuesday. Both are available for practices.
He declined to elaborate on the reason for their suspensions but noted it was especially disappointing because both are veterans.
“We have standards,” Groce said. “I expect those standards to be adhered to.”
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