D.J. Richardson scored 13 points and keyed a late Illinois run with a pair of 3-pointers, as the 13th-ranked Fighting Illini edged upset-minded Western Carolina, 72-64, at Assembly Hall.
Illinois (9-0), perhaps looking ahead to a meeting with No. 10 Gonzaga on Saturday, needed a 12-2 run in the final stages to put away the Catamounts, who were trying for their first-ever win against a ranked opponent.
Brandon Paul needed 15 shots to total 14 points, while Tracy Abrams added 10 points for the Illini, who shot just 7-of-24 from the perimeter.
"One area where we did get it done is we were able to win the game because we were able to make big plays," Illinois coach John Groce said.
Preston Ross and Brandon Boggs netted 17 and 16 points, respectively, for Western Carolina (3-6), which is 0-37 all-time against top-25 foes.
"I like Illinois' team," Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter said. "They've got a lot of good pieces to the puzzle."
The Catamounts never led, thanks in part to shooting 27 percent from the floor and committing 14 turnovers in the first half. They trailed, 32-22, at the break, but got hot and pulled even when Ross converted a three-point play for a 40-40 deadlock 6 1/2 minutes into the second half.
Eleven minutes later, Nnanna Egwu broke a tie game with a dunk, sparking Illinois' clinching flurry. Richardson hit from long range on consecutive possessions, and Abrams sank a fadeaway for a 66-56 cushion with 2:24 on the clock.
The closest the visitors got from there was six.
A Richardson 3-pointer midway through the opening half gave Illinois a 17-7 lead, and it remained a 10-point margin at the intermission.
Illinois owns a 20-game non-conference home winning streak ... The Illini scored 20 more points in the paint, 34-14 ... Illinois scored 29 points off 22 turnovers ... Western Carolina is 1-14 all-time against current members of the Big Ten ... The Catamounts play will play just their second home game of the season on Saturday when they host Appalachian State.