FINAL: No. 9 Michigan State drops third straight, to Illinois
A team that once seemed destined for Big Ten greatness, No. 9 Michigan State (18-5, 9-3 Big Ten) shockingly dropped their third straight game Tuesday night at Illinois, 79-74 (8-15, 4-8 Big Ten).
Turnovers put Michigan State in a hole early, and a lack of poise in the final minutes doomed them defensively. The Illini faithful stormed the court after their team defeated their first AP Top 10 opponent in six years. Junior point guard Cassius Winston led the Spartans with 21 points. However, Winston committed a career-high nine turnovers, which only went for a small percentage of MSU’s 24 in the game.
In a tie game with 2:35 remaining, Illinois freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu, a Chicago native, took the ball and shot it. Twice in a row, he drained contested late shot-clock threes over Big Ten player of the year candidate Cassius Winston. Then, the Illini matched the Spartans in a free throw shooting contest in the final two minutes, as the teams combined to shoot 41-47 from the line.
Dosunmu was the undisputed star of the game, scoring 24.
Trailing by 14 with 13:11 left after a game in which almost everything that could go wrong had gone wrong, the Spartans mounted a comeback. They held Illinois without a field goal for an 8:55 span, staging a 22-5 run. Senior forward Kenny Goins capped the run with back-to-back threes from the top of the key to give Michigan State their first lead of the game.
In the first half, Michigan State was simply a mess offensively, turning the ball over as many times as they shot the ball, 17. Illinois’ relentless, mostly man-to-man ball pressure as soon as MSU crossed half court caused consistent problems. The Spartans shot 62.5% in the half, and 90% from the free throw line, but because of the turnovers, trailed by nine to a determined Illinois team.
Junior forward Nick Ward, making his first appearance off the bench of the season, tied with junior forward Kyle Ahrens for the MSU halftime lead in points with seven. Dosunmu scored 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting to lead the Illini.
After halftime, the Spartan woes in the turnover game didn’t stop, with four in the first six minutes of the second half. As Michigan State began to get anxious defensively, Illinois capitalized, running the kind of back cuts that are usually used against them, in building a lead that grew to as many as 14.
The problems with defensive rebounding that presented themselves in recent losses to Purdue and Indiana again reared their head Tuesday night. The Illini came in last in the Big Ten in rebounding, but grabbed 12 offensive boards.
Michigan State returns home licking its wounds Saturday against Minnesota (16-6, 6-5 Big Ten).