Penn’s late-game heroics give Illini 2nd conference win

Karisma Penn’s number was called.

The preseason All-Big Ten selection was quiet for most of Thursday night’s matchup against Minnesota at the Assembly Hall.

But with the scored tied at 67 with less than a minute remaining, Penn received the ball deep in the post and converted a layup while getting fouled. She sank the free throw and Illinois went on to win their second Big Ten conference game, 72-67.

“Karisma wanted the basketball in her hands down the stretch,” head coach Jolette Law said. “She hit a big shot and then stepped up to the free-throw line and iced the game.”

“Like Coach Law said, we had a talk the other day,” Penn said. “She told me ‘I know you’re trying to be unselfish, but we need you to get your double-double.’ I wanted to be more aggressive.”

Penn, who had 13 points, may have been the one to seal the game for Illinois, but she was aided by her teammates throughout the contest.

Adrienne GodBold led all Illinois scorers with 18 points off the bench. Alexis Burke added 16 points, and sharpshooter Amber Moore also reached double figures with 11 points. Illinois shot 51.7 percent from the field.

Law said she expects contributions from her whole roster, and that having four players in double digits should be more of a regularity.

“On any given night, any one of my players can be in double figures,” Law said. “Instead of having one MVP, my definition of MVP is Many Valuable People. When you see four or five people in double figures, it means we’re a dangerous team.”

Illinois started the game with energy but was able to secure a lead when GodBold entered the game. She scored eight straight points in the first half for Illinois, helping them to a 33-23 halftime lead.

The strong first half start was in stark contrast to the last home game Sunday against Nebraska, where the Illini were dominated physically and mentally en route to a 20-point loss.

“My kids came focused,” Law said. “It started in practice two days ago. You knew the energy was great in practice yesterday and also in shootaround (today).”

Minnesota was able to cut the deficit in the second half when freshman Rachel Banham came alive from the field. Banham did her best GodBold imitation, igniting a Minnesota run by scoring eight consecutive points of her own.

Minnesota clawed back into contention, and the rest of the game resembled a boxing match, with both teams exchanging punches. There were six ties and six lead changes in the second half.

Illinois was able to pull out the close game despite being without second leading scorer Kersten Magrum. The coaching staff held her out from Thursday’s game after she was involved in a collision in practice, aggravating her post-concussion symptoms.

The rest of the team stepped up in her place, though, including Burke, who was active on the offensive side in the second half to withstand Minnesota’s run.

“I think that I had to step up and feed off my teammates,” Burke said. “I just try to fit in the circle and play as much team ball as possible.”