Fifth-ranked Illinois, overcoming 27 turnovers against Houston's pressing defense, followed the shooting of Anthony Welch, Doug Altenberger and Scott Meents to a 77-76 victory yesterday in Houston.
"You're not supposed to win if you have 27 turnovers and I'm glad we got this one," Illinois Coach Lou Henson said. "We felt Houston could really hurt us with their half-court trap and the turnovers show we had some problems."
But the shooting of Welch, who made 13 of 16 shots and scored 26 points, and Altenberger, who was eight for nine and scored 18 points, gave the Illini (18-5) enough cushion to hold off the Cougars.
Meents came off the bench to score 18 of his 22 points in the second half, going eight for 11 from the field. He completed a three-point play with 1:49 remaining to give the Illini a 75-70 lead. But Houston, which trailed by as many as 16 in the first half, cut it to one on an inside shot by Greg Anderson and two free throws by Eric Dickens.
The Cougars had a chance to go ahead when Alvin Franklin stole the ball on the inbounds pass following Dickens' free throws, but he missed from inside the lane with 15 seconds left.
Meents then hit two foul shots with nine seconds left for a 77-74 Illinois lead. Franklin, who led Houston (14-8) with 22 points, hit a base line jumper at the buzzer.
"Our players showed a lot of courage when they (the Cougars) started coming back," Henson said.
Welch and Altenberger led Illinois to a 22-6 lead early in the game. The Illini hit 82 percent of their shots in the first half for a 40-32 lead at intermission.
Illinois finished with 67 percent shooting from the field -- a record for Houston opponents.