Defeating the No. 10 team in the country as an unranked team that has had ups and downs all season requires a superior performance where a team is giving 100% effort from its players while also making minimal amounts of mistakes.
That is exactly what the Michigan State men’s basketball team did against the University of Illinois to upset one of the top teams in the Big Ten. From the tip-off, the Spartans looked much more prepared for this matchup than they did against Minnesota.
On the offensive side of the ball, Michigan State played fast and efficiently as they quickly scored on its first few possessions and created a bit of comfort rather than trying to catch up early. Before long, multiple Spartans began to find a groove and by halftime, two Spartans, graduate forward Malik Hall and senior guard A.J. Hoggard, were already within double digits.
Hall had been having a perfect first half as he finished the first of the two with 11 points, shooting 4-4 from the field, 1-1 from the three-point line and also 2-2 from the free-throw line. Hoggard was also perfect as he went 6-6 from the charity stripe, he also racked up three early assists to go with his 10 points in the first half.
It wasn’t just these two either, the entire team had been performing at a high level through the first 20 minutes. Going into halftime the Spartans were shooting 57.7% from the field and 66.7% from the three-point line. They had also cashed on 10 of their 12 free throws going into halftime.
The Spartans were able to stay consistent throughout the second half, something they have struggled with in previous games. After shooting at such a high mark in the first half, the Spartans finished the game shooting 52.7% from the field and 62.5% from the three-point line.
The Fighting Illini, however, shot 43.3% from the field and 36.7% from three-point land; it was clear how effective the Spartan offense was against the Illinois defense.
While the Spartan’s free throw percentage did drop to 73.5% compared to the Fighting Illini’s 85%, the Spartans went 25-34 while Illinois only attempted 20 total.
Although the Spartans were dialed in on offense, it wouldn’t be a complete performance without the defense effort they showed, especially late in the game.
Leading up to the last few minutes the Spartans had been doing an excellent job containing two of the best scorers on Illinois' offense: fifth-year senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr. and graduate student guard/forward Marcus Domask.
While Shannon did have a big night as he finished with 28, he was forced to earn a chunk of those points from the free-throw line as the Spartans forced him there 13 times. Shannon was successful on 12 of those attempts, however, Shannon was less successful from the floor going 7-19 on the night.
Domask also hit double-digits, but over his last three games Domask has been averaging just under 20 points a game and he was held to a quiet eight shots on the night and 12 points in total.
The biggest defensive moment for the Spartans however was in the final minutes of the game as both teams continued to make a push for the lead late. Michigan State’s offense had been clicking on all cylinders again late, but the team also had to make some stops to take this one home.
Knowing this, the Spartans stepped up the defense in the final minutes, and forced the Fighting Illini to make only one of their last 12 field goals to close out the game. The Spartans used the lapse in the Illinois offense to secure a late lead and a victory.
After the game, head coach Tom Izzo said that the team's performance was "the most complete game (they've) had."
He also mentioned that if this team was going to make a push in playing more like they did tonight, the Spartans will have to be consistent.
“It was a good day for us but that is always said with guarded optimism because consistency is what everybody is looking for,” Izzo said.
Hall agreed with his head coach and said after the game that he did not want to be in a state of “too high or too low," but that he was happy with the outcome of the game. Hall also felt that for this team to make an impact later on in the season, this is how they were going to have to play.
“As long as our three guards and myself continue to play the way that we did today and we can continue to replicate the intensity and the passion and the good play that we did today, I think we’ll be a really great team,” Hall said. “I think that’s the team that everyone was talking about at the beginning of the year and that’s the team that we want to be so now we have to be that team."
The Spartans will have three days of rest and practice before suiting up again and heading out to University Park to face off against Penn State. The Spartans and Penn State have already met once earlier this year in East Lansing where the Spartans routed the Nittany Lions 92-61.
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The rematch between these two teams is scheduled for Valentine’s Day, Wednesday, Feb. 14 at 6:30 p.m. The game will also be streamed on the Big Ten Network.
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