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Foul troubles hinder MSU men's basketball in 71-68 loss to No. 10 Illinois

January 12, 2024
Sophomore guard Tre Holloman (5) with the ball during a game against Hillsdale at the Breslin Center on Oct. 25, 2023. The Spartans defeated the Chargers 85-43.
Sophomore guard Tre Holloman (5) with the ball during a game against Hillsdale at the Breslin Center on Oct. 25, 2023. The Spartans defeated the Chargers 85-43. —
Photo by Sonya Barlow | The State News

Michigan State men’s basketball’s back-and-forth 71-68 loss at No. 10 Illinois was about as even of a matchup as you could hope to see during Big Ten basketball season.

The Spartans and the Fighting Illini both shot 42% from the floor Thursday night. Where Michigan State had seven turnovers, Illinois had eight. Where Michigan State had 37 rebounds, Illinois had 34. Pretty much everything on paper Thursday in Champaign looked nearly identical — until you looked at the free-throw column.

The Fighting Illini made 22 trips to the free throw line, making 18 shots. Michigan State went to the line seven times and converted just five trips into points.

“I actually thought we did a hell of a job defensively,” head coach Tom Izzo said following the game. “I think the difference in the game was the free-throw line. I was a little disappointed if I was being honest. They do have a tendency to draw fouls, but I thought the discrepancy was a little bit tough.”

Illinois did a good job at driving toward the basket and drawing fouls on the way there throughout the game, putting some of MSU’s star players in foul trouble early. Graduate student guard Tyson Walker and graduate student forward Malik Hall were both instrumental in keeping the Spartans in the game with 17 and 14 points respectively, but they both ended the night with four fouls each.

After the game, Izzo said that he thought Walker got out of his game after getting into foul trouble. The usual offensive machine went 1-7 from the three-point line and had to spend some time on the bench after logging his third foul early in the second half.

The Spartans play aggressively in the paint, which has been evident all season, but they have to be able to play their strong defensive style without getting whistled over and over again.

“Everybody's got to improve, but we just got beat by a damn good team — with a free throw discrepancy, like it is,” Izzo said. “I feel good about our performance, as far as how hard we played, and what we did, and how well we rebounded against the team that has been kicking everybody's butt on the boards. So, we're going to get better. We’re going to grow from here. We’re going to get better. Everybody will give up on us, and that's fine with me — I don't even blame them — but I think I know where this team can still get and I'm going to get them there.”

The Spartans are now sitting at 1-4 in Big Ten play, but they will have the chance to redeem themselves Sunday at home against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at noon on Big Ten Network.

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