On Saturday afternoon, the Michigan State men’s basketball team welcomed its highest-ranked home opponent of the season — the No. 10-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini.
The last time these two teams met, the Spartans fell 71-68 in one of their better-played games of the season, but this time around, the Spartans came out on top 88-80.
Senior center Mady Sissoko won the tip for the Spartans and graduate student guard Malik Hall got a quick two points on the board via a jumper.
Early on, Michigan State was doing a solid job defending in the paint but allowed Illinois to grab the lead after leaving two of the team's best shooters — guards Terrance Shannon Jr. and Marcus Domask — wide open outside the arc.
The early defensive woes didn’t rub off too much on MSU’s offensive endeavors though as the Spartans started the first six minutes of the game shooting 63% from the floor.
The biggest issues for the Spartans early on weren’t from their offensive production, but instead it came in the form of six quick personal fouls that left the Breslin Center furious.
Halfway through the first half, the Fighting Illini pulled ahead by seven points, but the Spartans were not going to go down easy. However, the Spartans picked up the pace on both sides of the court fueled by the packed house getting louder and louder after every step in the right direction.
With 3:41 left in the first half, the Spartans finally pulled ahead 35-33 with a three in transition from senior guard Jaden Akins to top off a 10-0 scoring run for MSU and forced an Illinois timeout.
Michigan State held onto their three-point lead at halftime and went into the locker room up 44-41.
Down the stretch, the Spartans outshot, out-defended and out-rebounded their guests. MSU shot 58% from the floor and 67% from three to hold onto the advantage.
Forward Malik Hall was a huge piece like he normally is, but in the first half, he amounted 11 points and shot 100% from the floor and the free-throw line.
Both teams came out for the second half swinging and played some of the most entertaining basketball the Breslin Center has seen yet this season.
Illinois played like the No. 10 team in the country, but the Spartan veteran core played like a well-oiled machine.
Halfway through the second half, the Fighting Illini went on an offensive surge and knocked down all the shots they put up while the Spartans could not get one to fall. With five minutes left, the script flipped.
Two offensive drives in a row, Hall was fouled and able to convert two three-point plays for the lead, followed by two steals from graduate student guard Tyson Walker and senior guard A.J. Hoggard. With 1:39 left, the Spartans had a six-point lead and the energy in East Lansing was palpable.
The final minute of play dragged on as it does in most close games, but the Spartans prevailed and took down the No. 10 team on their home court.
The Spartans will be back in action playing away on Wednesday, Feb. 14 at 6:30 p.m. against Penn State. The game will be streamed on Big Ten Network.
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