CHAMPAIGN — Mark Smith had a career-high 21 points and Kipper Nichols tied his best with 16 to push Illinois past DePaul 82-73 on Friday night at State Farm Center.
Illinois (3-0) made just 5 of 23 3-pointers and shot just 42 percent from the field but it wasn't because of Nichols. Coming off the bench, he nailed two of his three attempts from behind the arc in the Illini's first meeting with the Blue Demons (1-2) in 60 years.
The Blue Demons hung with the Illini all game, but were never quite able to get over the hump. DePaul led for just 3 minutes and 44 seconds.
Led by freshman Justin Roberts, who scored a career-high 19 points, DePaul went on an 11-2 run to close within 49-47 with 14 minutes to play. But the Illini responded with a 9-2 run of their own, highlighted by an and-one layup and right hand jam from Nichols, who scored the last seven in the surge.
DePaul shot just 32 percent in the second half and Tre'Darius McCallum, the Blue Demons' leading scorer, was held scoreless in 22 minutes.
Aaron Jordan had another strong outing off the bench. He scored seven points on 2-of-4 shooting and led Illinois with nine rebounds.
The Blue Demons lost starting guard Devin Gage to an ankle injury in the first half. However, Roberts showed that he can be the Blue Demon's main' playmaker in extended minutes. Along with his 19 points, he also had five rebounds and four assists.
The Illini were able to pull out a win behind strong performances from its underclassmen as the freshman Smith and sophomore Nichols were the only players in double figures.
The Illini continue their home stand Sunday against Marshall (2-1), who are led by junior Jon Elmore with averages of 28.3 points and 7.7 assists.