FINAL: MSU men's basketball falls short at Illinois 73-70
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — MSU men's basketball (18-12, 10-7 Big Ten) missed the last second shot as the Illinois Fighting Illini (18-12, 7-9 Big Ten) prevailed, 73-70.
Senior night for the Fighting Illini, six seniors were honored, including guards Malcolm Hill and Tracy Abrams. Hill leads Illinois in several categories including: points, assists and steals. Hill's 17 points per game is good for fifth in the Big Ten. In his final home game, he would not hold back, scoring 22 points to lead Illinois.
Abrams finally received his curtain call after six-years on the team. In his initial senior year, Abrams suffered a season-ending knee injury which allowed him to redshirt for a fifth-year. Before his fifth-year began, Abrams suffered a torn left Achilles tendon. He was allowed a second medical redshirt.
MSU trailed by six points to end the first half. Although the Spartans led the personal foul differential by three fouls, a case of the turnovers hit MSU. Poor passes paired with weak dribbling struck the Spartans for nine turnovers which turned into 14 points. The Spartans repeated their turnover trouble in the second half. They ended the contest with 15 turnovers for 18 points.
A small saving grace for MSU came at the hands of senior guard Alvin Ellis III. With the clock winding down, Ellis stole the in-bounds pass, and put home a layup with 0.1 seconds remaining to end the half. Illinois' Leron Black with 13 first half points, Black shot 5-for-5 from the field, three baskets from 3-point range.
The second half was riddled with exciting back-and-forth basketball, each team trading lead after lead, nine times in all. In the middle of the second half however, Hill sparked a push with a couple of 3-point baskets. The 15-2 run over 4:35 put the Fighting Illini up 11 points. As the Illini remained on top for the next six minutes, but Ellis scored 13 points in the second half to try and pull the Spartans ahead. His third 3-pointer put MSU back to four points, but the sixth-year man Abrams traded a dagger on the other end.
In the final minute, freshman forward Miles Bridges hit his third 3-pointer, putting MSU to a one point game. After an Illinois miss, the ball bounced around, eventually falling into the hands of Hill. He would split the free throws.
Bridges would try to close the game out for MSU, but his drive in the final seconds bricked. The Fighting Illini split a pair of free throws and MSU had one last chance to tie, but junior guard Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr. bricked the running jumper.
Bridges had a normal performance for his pedigree, recording a double-double of 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Freshman forward Nick Ward had a quiet game for his recent standards. The big man was named Big Ten Player of the Week and Big Ten Freshman of the Week a few days ago. His night ended with 11 points and six rebounds.
One category that MSU has struggled with all season is the rebound margin. Riddled with preseason injuries, Ward at 6-foot-8 leads MSU in height. Against the orange and blue, Ward and Bridges led MSU's rebounding game, a margin of plus-eight rebounds over Illinois.
While they grabbed rebounds, the Spartans did a poor job of sharing the ball, a staple of the MSU offense this season. 25 field goals made, the Spartans only assisted on nine of them.
MSU will end its regular season on March 4 against Maryland. That game will tipoff at 2 p.m. and televised on Big Ten Network.