CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — In the past, the Michigan State Spartans have had their issues with the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Coming into Monday’s tilt, the Spartans had just three wins over Illinois over the past 10 seasons. Last year, the teams met just once, with the Illini coming away with the 73-70 victory on their home floor.
Monday night had a different narrative, as the Spartans used a strong start to the second half to break away from Illinois as the game wound down. Michigan State shot better than 68% as a team in Champaign, and picked up their second straight win with an 87-74 decision over the Fighting Illini.
After losing two of three games, the Spartans have now won back-to-back games and move to 6-2 in Big Ten play. The loss was the sixth straight for Illinois, who fall to 0-8 against conference foes.
Miles Bridges had himself quite the night against Illinois. He was 11-of-13 from the floor, finishing with 31 points to lead the way for the Spartans. Bridges also pulled down eight rebounds and blocked a pair of shots. Forward Jaren Jackson Jr. had 21 points and 11 rebounds for the double-double, while also blocking six shots of his own.
Michigan State struggled with ball control again on Monday night, as they committed 25 turnovers. Guard Cassius Winston accounted for eight of the team’s turnovers on the evening.
The Fighting Illini were led by Kipper Nichols, who came off the bench to score a team-best 27 points. Nichols was 9-of-14 from the floor, and 5-of-8 from three point range in the loss. Trent Frazier added 13 points of his own, while Leron Black had 12 points in 20 minutes of action.
Illinois shot just 43.1% from the floor, compared to the 68.2% clip that the Spartans hit at over the course of the evening.
Michigan State’s 25 turnovers on the night were their most since November of 2005, when they committed 27 in an overtime win over the Arizona Wildcats. The game was so sloppy for the Spartans on Monday that head coach Tom Izzo called it ‘ridiculous’.
Out of the gate, the Spartans imposed their will on the glass, holding the Fighting Illini without a rebound for close to 10 minutes to start the game. Michigan State out-rebounded Illinois by a 37-15 margin on the evening.
The Spartans took a seven-point lead into the break, and came out in the second half looking to put separation between themselves and the Illini. Black alternated baskets with Nick Ward and Joshua Langford out of the half, as both teams were scoring fast and furious in the first minute and a half.
Then, Illinois went cold from the field, allowing the Spartans to stretch their lead to double figures. A trio of free throws from Matt McQuaid with 14:35 to play gave the Spartans a 53-39 lead, and the visitors were in control for the rest of the evening.
Amidst their sloppy play on both ends of the floor, Michigan State managed to shoot their way to the 87-74 victory over Illinois.
With the win, sixth-ranked Michigan State (18-3, 6-2) has now won two straight after a rough three game stretch when they were ranked first in the nation. The Spartans continue their three-game week on Friday with a home contest against the Wisconsin Badgers.
The loss was the sixth straight for Illinois (10-11, 0-8), who remain in last place in the Big Ten Conference. They will go for their first conference win on Wednesday night when they host the Indiana Hoosiers in the second of three straight home games.
– T. Bennett