CHAMPAIGN -- An avalanche of losses in the past three weeks meant Illinois basketball planned to play Tuesday night against visiting Penn State, no matter how much snow fell.

CHAMPAIGN -- An avalanche of losses in the past three weeks meant Illinois basketball planned to play Tuesday night against visiting Penn State, no matter how much snow fell.

A promising season hit a snag with four losses in the previous five games, and the Illini desperately needed a victory over the Nittany Lions to boost the Illini in the Big Ten pecking order, thus help the Illini on Selection Sunday.

So athletic director Ron Guenther decided Monday to play the game - if Penn State could make it to town.

But there was just one snag before the Illini scored a 68-51 win in conference play before a crowd of 3,470 at Assembly Hall on Tuesday. Coach Bruce Weber almost couldn't make it through a snow drift in his western Champaign subdivision.

"Literally, I was struggling, and there were people in the road,'' Weber said. "I couldn't go through or around. Really, I sat and said a prayer. Let me get through this thing. I'm a good Wisconsin driver. I've been through this. I backed up, went forward. Backed up, went forward. Kept rocking it. I shot through the drift.

"I felt bad for the three cars there. One was a lady. She's sitting there kind of waving me down. God, I had to get to the game. I couldn't help her.''

The Illini (15-7 overall, 5-4 in the Big Ten) helped themselves behind a season-high 22 points and seven rebounds from senior forward Mike Davis, who put together a four-game stretch of games where he played with more energy and confidence. He finished five dunks against the Nittany Lions, and he constantly worked the pick and roll to his advantage.

"That might have been the most dunks I ever had in a single game in college,'' Davis said. "I kept rolling to the basket. I kept sneaking in there to get open.

"I was tired of everybody saying dunk the ball. I tried to dunk it all night.''

Illinois shot 46.2 percent from the field and tallied 21 assists on 24 field goals. Guard D.J. Richardson scored 10 points to reach double figures for the first time in six games, but the stretch run to the season looks shaky with the struggles continuing for senior guard Demetri McCamey, who still couldn't play his way out of a funk.

McCamey, who was 4-for-22 in the previous two games and hasn't played well through the recent Illini slump, was 2-for-9 from the field. He scored six points with five assists and one turnover.

"Demetri did what he was supposed to do as a point guard,'' Weber said. "We won.''

Freshman forward Jereme Richmond started for the third time this season but the first time in Big Ten play. He had eight points and 10 rebounds. After first asking him if he was ready to start last week, Weber had the same question for Richmond this week.

"If we get the W at the end, that's all that matters,'' Richmond said.

Senior Bill Cole, bumped from the starting lineup, came off the bench with 10 points and four rebounds.

"Bill is one of a kind,'' Davis said. "He never pouts, never complains. He plays hard, scraps, rebounds and defends. He's such a great shooter, but he's not thinking about shooting. He's playing defense. He's one of the X factors on this team. We love his energy.''

Illinois plays at Northwestern (13-8, 3-7) on Saturday (noon, CBS).

"Now the question is can we bring the same type of energy and intensity on the road,'' Weber said. "We haven't had it.''

Penn State (12-9, 5-5) had won five of the previous eight meetings with the Illini.

"They just moved and had more zip than we did,'' said Penn State coach Ed DeChellis, whose Nittany Lions endured a marathon trip to reach Assembly Hall. Penn State left headed to Champaign by chrter jet but was rerouted to Evansville, Ind., where the team stayed Monday night. Penn State rode a bus nearly five hours to Champaign on Tuesday morning.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.