“The ability to come back even stronger.”
As defined by junior forward Xavier Tillman, redemption took the form of a two-handed put-back slam that gave Michigan State (17-8, 9-5 Big Ten) its deciding 70-69 lead over Illinois with six seconds to play.
It was fitting that the arm displaying “REDEMPTION” was one of two ripping down the Spartans’ three-game losing streak as Tuesday’s game came to a close. It was especially fitting after multiple Tillman misses cost MSU single-digit losses at Wisconsin and Michigan over that stretch.
Over the streak, Tillman shot a measly 36.6%. Even more glaring were the multiple missed layups that were especially costly in the late minutes in Madison, Wisconsin.
As Izzo suggested, MSU is essentially “a couple missed layups away from leading the Big Ten.”
Even through his recent struggles, Tillman’s current disposition wasn’t a recent gathering.
"After we lost in the Final Four, I felt like we just had something to prove,” Tillman said. “This whole off-season, this whole season was just something to prove, not to everybody else, but to ourselves that we could finish the job for guys like (Kyle) Ahrnie and guys like Cash (Winston), doing it for the past guys like Nick (Ward) and Kenny (Goins) and (Matt) Quaido. But just knowing that if I get another opportunity that it's going to end up in a better and different result. That's what I'm all about.”
After Michigan State failed to rebound three consecutive times, and the recurring questions marks reappeared, Tillman provided the answer.
He acknowledged the Spartans’ recent struggles and those in close games especially.
“Usually when we have close games we don't come out with the win,” Tillman said. “I knew if I was going to get the opportunity, I'm dunkin' it."
As Tillman expressed his confidence to the remaining two student reporters gathered after Thursday’s practice, he relayed an encouraging disposition for a MSU team that just hasn’t yet seemed to sustain — or perhaps even reach — its ceiling.
“I had a determining confidence where we were going to get the win if I had the opportunity to touch the ball," he said.
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