5 takeaways from No. 6 men's basketball win against Illinois
No. 6 MSU didn’t play its most efficient game of the season, but a win is a win, as the Spartans handed Illinois an 87-74 loss at the State Farm Center in Champaign.
With the win, the Spartans (18-3, 6-2 Big Ten) have won two straight, while the Illini (10-11, 0-8) remain winless in conference play.
Here are five important things beat writer Casey Harrison took away:
1. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers
Turnovers were the sole reason this game was as close as it was when the Spartans led 39-32 at halftime. MSU committed a season-high 25 turnovers resulting in 23 points for the Illini.
Illinois seemed to simply run out of gas while giving MSU its best possible effort, but the Spartans dominated in every other facet. MSU shot a season best 68.2 percent from the field while holding the Illini to 43.1 percent. The Spartans also dominated the rebound battle, 37-15.
MSU point guards combined for 12 turnovers, eight of which were from sophomore Cassius Winston. Though some of MSU’s turnovers was caused by ill-timed passes and preventable fouls, the bottom line is if a team like Illinois, that still remains winless in the Big Ten, can force 25 turnovers and eight steals, It raises huge flags about MSU’s ability to hold onto the ball on key possessions in other crucial games.
2. The Miles Bridges show
Sophomore forward Miles Bridges put the team on his back and scored a game-high 31 points, 17 of which came in the first half. Bridges finished shooting 11-of-13 from the floor, with two 3-pointers and also finished with eight rebounds.
What’s especially noteworthy is, aside from the high scoring total, Bridges has emerged in recent games as MSU’s go-to scorer who isn’t afraid of putting the team on his back.
Since scoring 11 points in MSU’s 76-72 win against Rutgers on Jan. 10, Bridges, the 6-foot-7 native of Flint, is averaging 24 points over the last three games.
3. Jackson continues to impress
Freshman forward Jaren Jackson Jr. gave many Spartan fans a scare when he momentarily left with 2:35 in the first half after taking an elbow to the head diving for a loose ball.
He returned to start the second half, and finished behind Bridges with 21 points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds for his sixth double-double.
Jackson, who entered with 65 blocks and set the school’s new freshman block record in MSU’s 85-57 win against Indiana last Friday, finished with six more blocks to give him 71 for the year. The school record belongs to Ken Johnson, who had 72 during the 1984-85 season.
4. Moving for-Ward
Forward Nick Ward only finished with seven points and two rebounds in 13 minutes, but made a couple of heads up plays on defense and effectively set screens to help MSU score in transition.
Ward has been learning to play through double teams, and it continues to be a point of emphasis for him and the team moving forward. Though he was limited in action tonight, he was able to be somewhat effective when he was in the game.
5. Road test
The win was MSU’s first game in a road environment since the 80-64 blowout loss to Ohio State on Jan. 7, and the Spartans looked much grittier this time out.
MSU kept its composure, even when Illinois showed signs of fight through most of the first half and even took a 24-23 with eight minutes to play until halftime. The Spartans did a good job at responding to a late 7-0 run by the Illini that cut the their deficit to 77-69 with 1:03 to play.
The question now is if the Spartans can replicate this, minus the turnovers, in the rest of its road games for the remainder of the season. MSU’s next test on the road, after it plays Wisconsin (10-10, 3-4) at the Breslin Center on Friday, is at Maryland on Sunday.
The Terrapins (15-7, 4-5) surely haven’t forgotten the 91-61 loss MSU handed the them on Jan. 4, and will probably put up a fight to avoid the season sweep. If they can capitalize on MSU turnovers early and often, the Terps will have a chance.