Benched Brown catalyst for win

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Dee Brown shoots over Shannon Brown of Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich., Saturday. Brown led Illinois with 20 points in the 75-68 win to finish the regular season 25-5 (11-5). Adam Nekola

By Courtney Linehan

EAST LANSING, Mich. – With 8:50 left in the first half and Illinois up by just three points, Dee Brown hit the bench. The senior guard had picked up his second foul, and Illinois coach Bruce Weber wasn’t about to risk losing his star player in one of the most important games of the season.

“Crazy things happen in games,” Weber said. “When he got his second I thought I’d take him out a few minutes; if they start making a run we’ll get him back in there and hopefully he’s smarter and doesn’t get a third.”

Brown sat on the sidelines for the rest of the first half, while Illinois looked to freshman Chester Frazier to run the court. Frazier hit a single 3-pointer and dished one assist but, more importantly for Illinois, he helped the Illini hold onto a 1-point lead going into halftime.

Brown came back in and the No. 10 Illini ultimately beat No. 25 Michigan State 75-68. To hear Spartans coach Tom Izzo talk, it was all thanks to Brown.

“Certain guys just have a way to win,” Izzo said. “They have some good players, but he just is that catalyst.”

Playing just 31 minutes, Brown scored a team-high 20 points for the Illini, who end the regular season 25-5 overall and 11-6 in the Big Ten.

“I don’t like sitting down, I want to play,” Brown said. “It was my fault that I got two fouls, so I had to sit. When I came in during the second half, I was determined to get in the flow of the game.”

Izzo said Brown’s effort is felt by more than just his Illinois teammates. The coach, who recruited last year’s Big Ten player of the year, said Brown has an effect on the way the entire conference plays and the way other teams view the Big Ten.

“The Big Ten’s going to miss Dee Brown, not just Illinois,” Izzo said. “You can see everybody has respect for him. He shouldn’t be called a great guard or a great shooter, he should just be called a winner.”

Illinois hopes that Brown continues to shine in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. Weber said teams that do well tend to have strong senior leadership, and he’s looking to Brown to provide that when the Illini need it most.

“You’ve got to have a guy in the NCAA tournament make the big plays, but you still have to have balance,” Weber said.

“Now teams aren’t quite able to lock in on just Dee. If some other guys make some shots, you’ve got to at least think about those guys.”