EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Illini’s struggles at Breslin Center continue.
Coming into Saturday, Illinois only had a half-game edge over Wisconsin for second in the Big Ten. Following the Wisconsin’s fourth-straight loss earlier on Saturday, Illinois looked to create some space when it faced Michigan State in Breslin Center — a place it had won only once in the last nine years.
It looked like that trend would change on Saturday. Illinois took an eight-point lead with just over seven minutes to go, but a disastrous offensive stretch — no made field goals until the final 30 seconds — allowed the Spartans to charge on a 19-4 run and steal the win, 88-80.
Saturday’s game was a series of back-and-forth punches throughout. There were 12 ties and 13 lead changes until Illinois (17-6, 8-4 Big Ten) looked to be in control with Marcus Domask’s third triple — tied for his most this season — giving the team a 72-64 lead.
“Felt like we had the game right in hand,” said head coach Brad Underwood.
But eight straight missed shots and four costly turnovers gave Michigan State (15-9, 7-6 Big Ten) to chance it needed to come back and get a much-needed win.
Shannon led all scorers with 28 points — his most since returning from the three-week suspension on Jan. 21 — but his contribution wasn’t enough. The fifth-year senior was limited down the stretch, with his previously-efficient shooting day ending in a 7-for-19 performance (2-for-9 from three).
The Spartan trio of A.J. Hoggard, Malik Hall and Tyson Walker stepped up big when the Illini and their stars slowed down.
They combined for 22 of Michigan State’s final 24 points, and the three finished with a total of 64 points — eight more than the entire team scored in the loss to Minnesota. They also shot 29 of Michigan State’s 34 free throws.
“I think we’re one of the top teams in the country in fewest fouls committed,” Underwood said. “They were obviously the aggressor.”
The rest of Illinois’ stars also were nowhere to be found late during the Spartan run. Domask and Coleman Hawkins had 12 points apiece before the drought, but two free throws from Hawkins were the only points from either guy the rest of the game.
“I think we had the game won at one point,” Hawkins said. “At the end of the day, we just have to sit down and guard and get stops.”
The Illini were not just cold in the final seven minutes. After shooting at a 50% clip from three up until early in the second half, they only made two more threes in the final 15 minutes of play.
“I felt good about our shots,” Underwood said. “That stretch in a close game was what broke our back.”
With the loss, Illinois was unable to take advantage of Wisconsin’s loss to Rutgers earlier in the day. Now, first-place Purdue is in complete control of the Big Ten, as Saturday night’s game can put it more than two games ahead of any other team in the conference (with only seven games to go).
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The third of back-to-back-to-back buckets for Shannon.
That’s just impossible to defend.
Coleman Hawkins with a Dirk-like one legged fade. pic.twitter.com/66LWySaLSn— Hoop Informatics (@HoopInformatics) February 10, 2024
The only Illini highlight in the last seven minutes of play.
- Coming into the game, Illinois ranked first in Big Ten in offensive rebounds per game (11.7). The Illini were 10-1 when getting 12 or more offensive rebounds, but they only had 9 offensive rebounds in Saturday’s loss.
- Heading into the game, top-10 teams had won less than 43% of their games on the road against unranked opponents this season. In the previous five seasons combined, those teams won nearly 73% of the time.
TWEET OF THE GAME
We’re throwing techs around for trash talking fans now??? pic.twitter.com/BykuISgnwy— Derek Piper (@DPiper247) February 10, 2024
Illinois heads back to Champaign for a matchup with Michigan on Tuesday night.
A reminder: Brad Underwood has never lost to Juwan Howard.
Tipoff is at 6 p.m.