COL BKB: Western Kentucky 76, Illinois 72
Steffphon Pettigrew pushed Western Kentucky to a late 17-point lead Thursday and the Hilltoppers held on to defeat Illinois 76-72 in the NCAA Tournament.
Western Kentucky pulled off what was almost a predictable upset as a No. 12 seed in the South Region.
At least one No. 12 seed has won an opening-round NCAA game in 19 of the last 21 years and two 12th-seeded teams were winners last year.
Western Kentucky (25-8), champions of the Sun Belt Conference, will face Gonzaga Saturday in the second round.
The Hilltoppers had a 68-51 lead with 6 minutes remaining before Illinois put on a late rush. Trent Meacham’s layup brought the Illini within 74-72 with 8 seconds to go but Anthony Sally sealed the win by making two free throws with a second remaining.
Pettigrew led the way with 17 points and both A.J. Slaughter and Sergio Kerusch had 14 for the Hilltoppers.
Meacham paced Illinois with 24.