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‘We did what we had to do late’: Rodgers, No. 10 Illinois hold off surging Michigan State

Make it four in a row over the Spartans.

TCR // Craig Pessman

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Several lead changes and runs later, the Illini picked up a big home win in conference play.

Illinois — coming off a tough five-point loss at No. 1 Purdue — welcomed in a Michigan State team that just lost to Northwestern in Evanston.

The Spartans came to State Farm Center looking to get a road upset Thursday night, and gave the Illini all they could handle trying to defend home court.

It was a closely contested game the whole way, as the largest lead at any point was 10 in favor of Illinois. The visitors would even lead by as much as six in the second half, but an eventual 7-0 run kept Illinois up between one and eight points the rest of the way.

“Think about what you would have thought a game with Michigan State would be,” head coach Brad Underwood said postgame.

With 17 seconds to play and the Illini up three, Spartan star Tyson Walker attempted a game-tying three and missed. But, this was not the last chance for the visitors, as after Luke Goode missed the front end of a one-and-one, AJ Hoggard also missed a game-tying three.

Illinois holds on, 71-68.

“We knew that they were coming off some losses and Coach Izzo didn’t think they were playing very good basketball lately,” Coleman Hawkins said. “So we knew we were going to get their best shot.”

While it was very close — against a Tom Izzo-led team — a win is a win. Big in part to the contributions of Ty Rodgers, Hawkins and Marcus Domask (15 points each).

“There was no panic, and we just got the ball to the right guys in the right spots,” Underwood said.

Rodgers was a big influence early, scoring six of the first eight Illini (12-3, 3-1 Big Ten) points. He came in with lots of energy on both sides of the ball after a rough showing in the loss to Purdue.

Similar to what the Boilermakers did having Zach Edey cover Rodgers, Mady Sissoko of Michigan State took on Rodgers right away.

“It’s kind of disrespectful in a way to do that, put a five man on Ty,” Hawkins said.

This time, Rodgers would thrive.

“We did a terrible job of letting [Rodgers] get to the rim,” said Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo.

In the first 14 minutes of the game, he matched a season-high 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting. Rodgers was also the only player at this point to be scoring in double figures. Underwood described Rodgers as a ‘monster’ from what he did in Thursday’s win.

“I thought Ty was really, really aggressive in the first half,” Underwood said. “Ty was super efficient.”

From Rodgers’ perspective, he was trying to play the game he knows he can.

“Try to continue to be myself,” Rodgers said. “When they’re sitting back it creates advantages for our guards. There’s just so many other things that you can do out of it to create advantages not just for myself but for my teammates.”

Rodgers’ 15 points is a career high.

Another big theme after the Purdue loss was how Luke Goode needed to be more physical down low with rebounding. Underwood thought he responded nicely.

“Luke was very good on the offensive glass,” Underwood said.

The junior picked up four rebounds in the first half that led to four second-chance points. Goode would finish the game with six total.

“Luke will be the first to tell you that ‘I got to rebound better,’” Underwood said.

Other than that, it was slow in the first half for Illinois.

Similarly, the orange and blue started the second half lackadaisically, starting a mere 1-of-4 from the field in the first four minutes — resulting in three points. It would allow Michigan State (9-7, 1-4 Big Ten) to jump in front for the first time since the game was 2-0.

The Spartan lead would grow to as much as six before the Illini responded. A 7-0 run followed in suit, and from there the game would be neck-and-neck till the final buzzer.

Overall, this was high-level Big Ten basketball, and a needed win for the Illini.

“We did what we had to do late, which was get stops and rebound,” Underwood said. “That’s how you win kind of an ugly, hard-fought game.”

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

SLOPPY SHOOTING: Illinois did not shot well from behind the arc in the first half, going 3-of-12. Compare this to Michigan State’s 3-of-8.

Although, at the end, these trends flipped flopped. Michigan State would finish 26.3% from three, whereas Illinois got up to 33.3%.

FIRST HALF DOUBLE FIGURES: Two players scored in double figures in this stanza. For Michigan State, Tyson Walker had 11.

Then for the Illini, it was Ty Rodgers, who matched a season-high with 12 points at the time.

REBOUNDING: Illinois struggled in this category against Purdue — a big reason it came up short in Mackey Arena. Regardless, the home team still came in to Thursday’s game at fourth in country averaging 44 rebounds per contest.

Against Michigan State, the battle was very even, but it was the visitors who had the advantage in this category 37 - 34.

SCORING BY COMMITTEE: Illinois ended up having five players go for at least 10 points, which — compared to Michigan State who had four players do so — certainly helped lift the home team to the win.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS

Ty brought the energy right away.

SOUND SMART

  • The all-time series is now tied 64-64.
  • Illinois now leads the all-time series in Champaign 42-21.
  • Illinois has won its fourth straight against Michigan State.

TWEETS OF THE GAME

UP NEXT

Illinois remains at home to welcome in Maryland on Sunday.

Tipoff against the Terrapins will be at 1 p.m. and televised on BTN.