Stevens scores 25 to lead Penn State past Illinois 83-76
"I'm just so proud of Mike," said Penn State coach Pat Chambers. "He's had to deal with some personal issues lately, and he really came through for us today. We're going to need that from him down the road."
Josh Reaves added 14 points for Penn State (11-16, 3-12 Big Ten Conference).
Ayo Dosunmu led Illinois (10-17, 6-10) with 18 points, all of them coming in the second half. Andres Feliz added 17 points for the Illini.
"My guys really stuck to the game plan," Chambers said. "We answered some of their runs. It's a challenge to prepare for a team like Illinois, which plays like no other. I think they are one of the best teams in the league right now. Today, we both played some good basketball."
THE BIG PICTURE
The Nittany Lions played Illinois in Champaign for the third straight time, going back to the 2016-17 season. Penn State won the previous two games. Illinois plays three of its next four games at home to close out the season.
Illinois had won four of its last five games coming into Saturday's game, losing to No. 22 Wisconsin 64-58 in Madison.
For the first time in its history, Illinois has two freshmen serving as its top-two leading scorers, Dosunmu (15 points per game) and Giorgi Bezhanishvili (13.9).
LOT OF DOG
Watkins, who scored 10 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, also blocked five shots and moved into second place all-time for blocked shots at Penn State.
"Watkins and Stevens, they're just unrelenting," said Illinois coach Brad Underwood. "They're really, really good. They got a lot of dog in them, and I mean that in a good way."
The game was intense and included a second-half technical foul on Underwood, who kicked a chair into the scoring table following a call he disagreed with.
Illinois went on a 9-0 run when trailing by 15 shortly after the technical and pulled within five points, 61-56.
"Well, last time I didn't get too far tossing my coat," Underwood said, referring to a technical foul he received earlier this season. "So this time I figured, what the hell, I'll kick the scoring table. Guess I should have done it ten minutes earlier."
HOT AND COLD
The Nittany Lions were 26 of 53 (49 percent) from the field, while Illinois was 26 of 66 (39 percent).
Both teams struggled defensively in the first half, while the Illini's offense went cold for long stretches. Illinois shot only 35 percent from the field in the first half, while Penn State shot 50 percent.
The Nittany Lions led 39-32 at the half.
Penn State: Hosts Maryland on Wednesday.
Illinois: Plays at No. 12 Purdue on Wednesday