The Michigan State Spartans (19-8, 8-4) gained a big win on the road over the Illinois Fighting Illini (17-10, 7-7) on Sunday night. For the Spartans, the win greatly helps their NCAA Tournament chances. The Illini, on the other hand, are right back on the bubble.Seniors Denzel Valentine (20 points), Braden Dawson (13 points), and Travis Trice (18 points) led the way for the Spartans.
Both teams wanted, and needed, this one badly and it showed throughout the game. Michigan State got a couple of big rebounds and hit a few big shots and were, ultimately, able to outlast the Illini at the State Farm Center.
1. It Wasn't Illinois' Night
Kendrick Nunn had a wide open three to tie the game but it didn't go down; that was the theme for the Illini the entire night. Nunn was 0-6 from three and the entire team was just 2 of 16 (12.5%) from long range and shot 15-52 overall (28.8%). Illinois couldn't seem to find open shots and when they did they couldn't convert. Malcolm Hill led Illinois in scoring with 15 points. Rayvonte Rice had 15, but besides those two no other Illini scored more than 7 points. When absolutely nothing is going in you're not going to win many games.
2. The Refs Controlled the Game
For the second time against Michigan State, the refs played a major part in the game. 46 fouls were called in this contest. There needs to be more consistency from the refs across the board. They shouldn't have had as big an impact as they did. It made for a very boring and slow game where neither team could establish any flow. Once the refs stopped calling so many fouls Illinois and Michigan State both started hitting shots and things started opening up on offense.
This is one awful call after another on both sides, probably 60% helping MSU. Hard not to talk about the officiating; it's consumed the game— Matt Silich (@msilich2) February 23, 2015
3. This Team Doesn't Quit
Just when it seemed like the game was over Illinois scratched and clawed their way back into it with an aggressive press that generated some easy turnovers. They had the look they wanted with Kendrick Nunn spotting up from behind the three point line--it just didn't fall.
4. Every Game Matters From Here on Out
A win today would have almost guaranteed Illinois a spot in the NCAA Tournament. With the loss, they are back on the bubble. Here is the remaining schedule:
at Iowa (Wednesday)
Nebraska (Deron WIlliams Bobblehead night)
Illinois will most likely need to win 3 out of the 4 games to put them into the tournament, which they are capable of. They should be favored against Nebraska and Northwestern and will need to steal one on the road against Iowa or Purdue. If Illinois can beat Iowa on Wednesday night they will be in good shape. If Kendrick Nunn, Malcolm Hill, and Rayvonte Rice can get on the same page, it really shouldn't be a problem.