Richardson's Return Key in Win

D.J. Richardson returned from a shoulder sprain to lead the Illini past Norfolk State Tuesday.

CHAMPAIGN – D.J. Richardson was noticeably not included in the string of players returning to the court for halftime warm-ups during Illinois' 64-54 win Tuesday against Norfolk State.

The senior guard left the game late in the first period after sustaining what was later termed as a bruised shoulder. He was racing down court to set up on offense when – BAM! – he collided with a Spartans player.

"I turned around to see either Tracy (Abrams) or Brandon (Paul) getting trapped and I ran into a guy," he said. "I don't know if it was his shoulder or if he gave me an elbow or what."

Whatever it was, it was unintentional. But it left Richardson reeling. He remained down for at least a minute as play had to be stopped.

When he didn't return for the start of the second half, a feeling of angst and wonder set in amongst a crowd stretching it's collective neck to see if Richardson would walk out of the tunnel or if his night was done. What if he wasn't just hurt? What if he was actually injured?

Richardson, averaging over 32 minutes, 12.1 points and 4.6 rebounds a night, is a heart-and-soul figure for the Illini. His absence for any period of time would be hard to imagine. Luckily for Illini Nation, Richardson didn't leave anything to question long. He reappeared and entered the game four minutes into the final half.

"D.J. ‘s a tough kid, wants to compete to win," coach John Groce said following the game.

Richardson played 13 minutes in the second half, scoring seven key points – a 3-pointer and a baseline layup banked high off the glass – to help the Illini fend off a pesky Norfolk State team that wasn't going away easy.

Richardson was quiet before he went down, scoring four points in the first half. But when winning time came calling – Richardson once again answered. He finished with 11 points, three rebounds and a steal.

"Yeah, made some big plays late," Groce said.

In the second half, sophomore guard Tracy Abrams crashed to the floor after jumping high in an attempt to steal a pass. Favoring his ankle, things didn't look good as he slowly left the floor.

Abrams, just like Richardson, would return, finishing with nine points. Losing either would be tough to deal with for a perimeter oriented team like the Illini, but fellow guard Brandon Paul said he never worried.

"No not at all, especially those two guys," he said. "They're tough guys. Tracy's a Chicago guy. D.J.'s a Peoria guy. They love the game and they're not going to let much keep them away from it."

Groce said both players will receive treatment Wednesday, and will practice according to how each injury – both called a contusion – responds throughout the week.

Richardson indicated he wouldn't miss the team's next game.

"It's feeling good," he said. "Treatment (Wednesday) and try to get ready and get prepared for Sunday (against Eastern Kentucky)."

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