Spartans sack Illini

By Sultan Abdul-Ahad

The Illini had No. 17-ranked Michigan State on the ropes, but were unable to pull off the upset as they fell 57-51 Sunday afternoon at Assembly Hall.

Illini head coach Theresa Grentz tweaked the starting lineup by starting junior forward Danyel Crutcher for junior center Audrey Tabon.

“I wanted a change, and they end up playing the same amount of minutes,” Grentz said.

Unlike its game against Minnesota on Thursday night, Illinois came out of the blocks quickly and made six of its first eight shots as it built a 14-5 lead after the first five minutes. Senior point guard Janelle Hughes scored 10 of those points, and had 14 points in the half.

The Illini defense also showed up strong in the first half as the Spartans (17-7, 7-4) missed 14 of its first 17 shots.

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Illinois kept the pressure up offensively as Tabon would come off the bench and score 12 points in the first half as the Illini made an effort to go inside against Michigan State’s zone defense.

The Spartans were able to weather the early storm and took a 27-26 lead with three minutes left in the first half on a jumper by forward Aisha Jefferson, but Hughes hit a jumper with 39 seconds left to give the Illini a 30-29 halftime lead.

The Spartans were able to stay close even though senior forward Liz Shimek only had four shot attempts in the half and scored just two points.

“She had only four shot attempts and that is unacceptable from the guards,” said Michigan State head coach Joanne P. McCallie.

In the second half, the Illini found another offensive contributor in junior forward Erin Wigley who scored eight points early in half as Illinois hit five of its first seven shots to open up a 43-36 lead.

The Spartans were throwing the ball to Shimek early and often and she was starting to make her presence felt by scoring five points in a key 7-0 run to tie the game at 43.

After an Illinois timeout, the Spartans took the lead on a three pointer by senior guard Lindsey Bowen, who scored 13 points in the game.

The Illini tied the game at 51 with four minutes left on two free throws by Erin Wigley. Wigley scored 12 points in the second half and finished the game with 14.

“That is the best game I’ve seen her play in three years, and I’m happy about that,” Grentz said.

Shimek’s strong drive to the basket got her two free throws, which she made to give Michigan State a two point lead. Shimek then made another strong post move to give the Spartans a 55-51 lead with just over a minute left.

The Illini would not score another point as they gave up numerous offensive rebounds in the latter stages of the game as they fell to 12-10 and 4-7 in the Big Ten.

“We cannot afford to make mistakes and we weren’t able to box out in critical situations,” Grentz said.

Hughes would only go 1-of-8 in the second half and the Illini shot just 36 percent in the second half compared to 43 in the first.

“It was a hard fought game,” McCallie said.