The Illini still led by three with a little over three minutes to play, but outscored the Spartans 12-5 down the stretch to pull away.
It was over when: Sam McLaurin stepped to the free-throw line and knocked down two singles to stretch the lead to 58-51 with less than a minute to play.
Player of the game: D.J. Richardson. The senior guard returned to the game early in the second half after leaving with an apparent shoulder injury after crashing to the court in the first period. Upon his return, he scored seven of his 11 points, including a crucial three-pointer that gave the Illini a 52-47 lead with just over six minutes remaining. Richardson also had three rebounds and a steal.
Unsung hero: McLaurin. The senior big man logged 26 minutes and may well have been the most impressive Illini in the first half due to his hustle on defense and work on the glass. He finished with six points, including a resounding put-back dunk, six rebounds (five offensive) and three blocks.
Stat of the game: Three-point percentage. Illinois shot 6-of-23 from downtown, missing six of the eight 3s taken in the second half. Norfolk didn't shoot well either (6-of-23), but the Spartans were able to limit the Illini's offensive strength by mixing up defensive looks and pressuring primary ball handlers all night long.
Stat of the game 2: Turnovers. The Illini had only nine turnovers -- the third consecutive game with 11 or fewer.
Stat of the game 3: Free-throw shooting. Illinois sank just 16 of 27 free throws taken (59.3 percent). The missed shots, including three by Tracy Abrams and two from Brandon Paul late, kept the Spartans in the game for longer than they should have been.
The takeaway: Another day, another win. But a trend of down play against perceived inferior competition following big wins is developing. The team hasn't played particularly well at home, either -- a strange aspect for any club, but especially one that has won 11 straight. Coach John Groce and Richardson both spoke about a less-than-desired amount of energy during the game. Still, the team is finding ways to win games, no matter how ugly the play may seem. Learning lessons and applying them to get better while still remaining undefeated is always a good thing.