The No. 2 men’s basketball team’s starting unit has consisted of the same five players all year: Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Miles Bridges, Nick Ward and Jaren Jackson Jr.
But against the Fighting Illini a trio of seniors joined the party, as Tuesday night was senior night.
Seniors Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn, Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling were inserted into the starting lineup alongside usual starters Miles Bridges and Josh Langford in No. 2 MSU’s (27-3, 15-3 Big Ten) 81-61 win over Illinois (13-16, 3-13) Tuesday night at the Breslin Center, in what was the team’s final home game of the season.
Fresh off of climbing out of a 27-point hole at Northwestern Saturday to avoid the Wildcat’s upset bid, the Spartans carried that momentum over to Tuesday. The team limited the Fighting Illini to shooting just 33 percent from the floor.
"I'm really proud of this team, I'm proud of what they've done," head coach Tom Izzo said after the game. "Normally it's hard at the end of the year with a game left to celebrate anything, but with the fact that it's senior night and to win a championship at home, or at least tie for one, is a special moment."
Both teams traded baskets in the early goings in what was a closely contested first half. Neither team had a lead larger than eight points.
The opening half of the contest featured spurts by both teams. MSU went on an early 10-0 run to take a 19-11 advantage, and the Fighting Illini countered with an 8-0 run of their own to tie the game at 21 points.
Despite shooting 50 percent for the half and holding Illinois to a 37 percent clip, the Spartans took just a 38-35 lead going into the halftime.
“I just told them at halftime we can’t turn it over and we’ve got to do a better job a defending the three,” Izzo said.
MSU went on a quick 9-0 spurt coming out of halftime to create some separation from the Fighting Illini. The run ultimately did Illinois, as they never came within 11 points of the Spartans from that point on.
MSU would lead by as many as 23 points in the second half. Bridges and Langford led the team in scoring with 19 points and 16 points, respectively. Schilling, who had four points on the night, was the only senior to record a basket.
The Spartans will look to clinch the Big Ten title when they travel to play Wisconsin (13-16, 6-10) on Sunday for their final game before the conference tournament.
With the win over Illinois, the Spartans will have at least a share of the conference title regardless of Sunday’s outcome. Ohio State (23-7, 14-3) will have a chance to share the title with the Spartans if they win at Indiana on Friday and MSU loses to the Badgers.
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