Illinois kept themselves in this game just enough to keep it interesting, but never close enough to make it a game. I couldn't look away and I wanted to so, so badly.
Michigan St. played without arguably their best player, Adreian Payne, and they still outmanned the Illini on both sides of the ball. Bunch of killers, those Spartans. Every single Illinois run was answered with a basket from Gary Harris, who finished with a remarkably efficient 23 points (7-for-9 FG). If it wasn't a Gary Harris jumper, it was a Gary Harris pullup, or a Keith Appling 3-pointer, or a Denzel Valentine layup. To seal the deal on their Champaign buzzkill, Keith Appling lobbed a alley-oop to Branden Dawson, who finished the play and the game, both viciously.
John Groce might say the refs had a hand to play in the loss. He threw his temper and his jacket. He was assessed a technical foul. Et cetera. And to an extent, he was right. The officiating this Big Ten season has been noticeably subpar, at times infuriating, and tonight sent our head coach into a full frenzy.
Illinois didn't lose because of the refs. Michigan State is better. They seemingly led by ten the whole game. My memory won't associate certain plays with certain points in the game because the feel of the game never changed. It was sensory deprivation. Izzo produced a warm tub of Illini tears, and I entered the dark room and soaked in it. I couldn't feel a thing, but I walked out pruney with apathy.
Illinois can't rebound. It's maddening. When you don't rebound, you neither end opponent possessions, nor continue your own. You simply hand the ball to a Michigan State team that can run faster, shoot better, and finish at the rim, every single time. It's no mystery why we lost.
- Nnanna Egwu's slump has hit a valley. Can it get worse? Honestly, is there a way it could be worse? I feel bad for the poor kid. He's trying, hard, and not one thing is working for him. Helplessness like this has driven greater men insane.
- The freshman played pretty well tonight. Maverick Morgan's mid-range shot looked good, which allowed the offense to run a few plays to him. Jaylon Tate had a beautiful stutter-spin in the second half. Kendrick Nunn is a baller and a bad ass, and stood tall in the face of a fight for the second time in his Big Ten career. He's going to coldcock someone before this season is over. Good.
- I'm an admitted Tracy Abrams apologist, but his out of control, turnover-prone offense irked me tonight.
NEXT GAME: Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Ohio St. Buckeyes - Thursday, Jan. 23 - 6:00 p.m. CT