Spartans escape with home win streak, top Illinois 63-57

By Larry Lage

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State leaned on its ability to dominate the offensive glass and a raucous crowd to keep a couple of winning streaks alive.

The seventh-ranked Spartans rebounded many of their misses and got an assist from their fans during a pivotal run, beating Illinois 63-57 on Saturday for their 11th straight win and 28th in a row at home.

“We snuck one out we probably didn’t deserve,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

The Spartans shot just 40 percent from the field, but made up for it by grabbing as many offensive rebounds (18) as the Fighting Illini had while on defense.

Michigan State closed the game with a 12-3 run in which the crowd was so loud the Illini once huddled up under a basket as their coaches screamed to them during a timeout, and didn’t foul in the final 15 seconds despite the desires of their coach.

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“To me, it’s the loudest place in the Big Ten, ” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said.

Michigan State (15-2, 5-0 Big Ten) hasn’t lost at the Breslin Center since Feb. 3, 2007. Its home winning streak trails just active runs by Notre Dame (45) and Kansas (34).

The Spartans’ streaks were in doubt until their top two scorers delivered just in time.

Kalin Lucas scored all 10 of his points after halftime, including four at the line in the last 4 minutes. Raymar Morgan made go-ahead free throws with 4:49 left and scored half of his eight points during the game-winning burst.

The Illini blanked Lucas in the first half, shutting down the player who was scoring a Big Ten-best 19 points in conference games and held him to 3-of-13 shooting. Morgan was scoreless for the first 18 minutes of the game.

Two of Illinois’ top players had poor games offensively, too.

Demetri McCamey missed all nine of his field goal attempts and Trent Meacham was 1-for-7, leading to both scoring three points – one-fourth of their scoring average.

Alex Legion scored a season-high 15 points for the Fighting Illini (15-3, 3-2).

“He’s one of the most prolific scorers coming out of this state,” Izzo said of the former Detroit Country Day star. “He’s going to have a brilliant career there if he keeps working and listening.”

Calvin Brock had 13 points and Mike Davis added 10 for Illinois.

Michigan State’s Goran Suton scored 12 points and Marquise Gray had 11 points and six rebounds, playing with intensity because fellow Flint native Morris Peterson had his jersey retired before the game.

Gray got a hug from Peterson during the pregame ceremony, which put his No. 42 in the rafters with another Flintstone, Mateen Cleaves, from the 2000 national championship team.

“Those two hanging up there gives me a little more motivation and drives me a little more,” Gray said.

The Spartans stayed atop the Big Ten, extending their best start in the conference since 1977-78 when Magic Johnson was a freshman. They are the only team without a conference loss.

Illinois, whose only setback in their previous 10 games was at Michigan early this month, had a chance to move into a first-place tie with Michigan State and Minnesota.

“I told our kids, the key word is ‘coachable.’ They have to listen and learn if we’re going to make strides,” Weber said of a his team that is already within a win of matching last season’s total. “We have to pick up our intensity. We have to finish games against top teams in the country if we’re going to be one of the top teams in the country.”

Illinois led by seven points at halftime and was in control until Lucas and Morgan led a late run.

Lucas made a shot and Morgan connected on two free throws to start a 9-0 run that put the Spartans ahead by five with just under 4 minutes left. After the Illini took a 54-51 lead with 6:10 left, they scored just three points.

“We couldn’t find a way to make a play at the end,” Brock said. “We got a little lazy.”

Michigan State made just 42 percent of its shots in the first half and had 14 turnovers, leading to a 34-27 deficit.

The Spartans shot even worse in the second half, but they had just four turnovers after halftime.

“If you get a shot up, at least you have a chance to get a rebound,” Izzo said.

Michigan State rebounds well home and away, but Izzo acknowledged the late run likely was fueled by the Breslin Center crowd that he said was the loudest in several years.

“Let’s face it, that wouldn’t happen on the road,” he said. “That happened because of the fans in the stands.”