Just one day into the month of March, and the madness has already started.
After starting the season 16-1, the Spartans have lost the last six out of 10, including two straight and have not won back-to-back games since Jan. 21 .
“This team has been through a lot, but I didn’t see this coming,” head coach Tom Izzo said. “There’s no excuse for that. There are just too many things these guys have had to go through, so maybe a slap in the face is good for us.”
MSU committed 16 turnovers in the game, and made 18 field goals.
It was clear the Spartans hadn’t played together in a while, as they committed six turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the game. Illinois had 12 points off turnovers in that stretch.
Adreian Payne was the first sub out when junior forward Branden Dawson made his first appearance in nine games less than three minutes in.
“He’s out there playing with one hand and jumping and getting dunks and making passes,” sophomore guard Gary Harris said. “It’s different when you’ve got guys in and out of the lineup. Getting these guys back, we’re going through a rough patch right now, but we’re sticking by our guys.”
He promptly split the Illini defense to tie the game at five.
The Fighting Illini went on a 21-4 run to push their lead to as much as 12 points.
But the Spartans were quick to counter after a three-pointer by Denzel Valentine followed by a steal and dunk by Dawson cut the lead to seven.
MSU went on a 14-5 run to close out the half and head into the break tied at 28.
Gavin Schilling gave MSU its first lead coming out of the locker room, but Illinois scored nine straight to get out to another lead.
Turnovers continued to haunt the Spartans.
Payne was a non-factor in the game, scoring just four points and grabbing seven rebounds, but committing four turnovers.
“They had a good game plan,” Payne said. “They double teamed me, and the best players didn’t play good. I don’t think I was as active. It’s just a matter of me doing what I’ve got to do for the team.”
Both teams went stagnant from the floor for the latter part of the second half as only two field goals were scored over a five minute period.
Harris was the only Spartan to have much success on the offensive side of the floor, scoring 19 points to lead all scorers.
In his first career start, Gavin Schiling tied his career high, and was the second leading scorer with seven points.
MSU will host Iowa at 9 p.m. Thursday as the season comes to a close at Breslin Center, before traveling to Columbus to take on Ohio St. in the season finale.
“There have been so many things,” Izzo said. “It seemed like everything came to a head and we just didn’t have any juice. This is a very disappointing loss. We tried to practice that way, but we sure didn’t play that way.”