After trailing by as many as 12 points, the No. 18 MSU men’s basketball team clawed their way back to head to the break tied at 28.
Gary Harris led the Spartans with 11 points and six other Spartans saw their names on the scoresheet. Tracy Abrams led Illinois with eight points.
Illinois had a clear plan right from the get go, double team Adreian Payne. And for much of the first half it worked.
Payne was the first sub out when junior forward Branden Dawson made his first appearance in nine games less than three minutes in.
Dawson promptly split the Illini defense to tie the game.
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.
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 dunk by Dawson cut the lead to seven.
The Spartan defense, led by the strong play of Harris, didn’t allow Illinois to score for more than six minutes to claw their way back into it.
Harris had the alumni Izzone rocking when he blew past the Illinois defense for a thunderous slam with just over four minutes left.
MSU went on a 14-5 run to close out the half.