Illini ‘just couldn’t finish it’ in loss to Michigan State

Brad Meyer

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Brad Meyer

By Jeremy Werner

The Assembly Hall decibel level hits its season crescendo the second Jeff Jordan’s layup hit the bottom of the net. The raucous capacity crowd felt an upset brewing as the fast-break bucket off a steal erased an 11-point deficit for No. 20 Illinois and tied No. 9 Michigan State 58-58 with 7:19 remaining.

But the frenzy in Champaign was short-lived.

Illinois did not make another field goal until Chester Frazier’s desperate 3-pointer with 33 seconds remaining.

The Illini missed four field goal attempts and turned the ball over four times in the last seven minutes, allowing Michigan State to clinch a share of the Big Ten regular season title with a 74-66 win on Illinois’ Senior Day.

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Michigan State prevails in heated battle

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“We fought like the whole game to get it back … but we didn’t execute it well there,” Illinois senior Trent Meacham said.

Mike Tisdale scored 13 of his team-high 15 points in the second half to help key the comeback for the Illini. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo made a “panic decision,” sending in rarely used senior center Idong Ibok with 7:08 remaining to try to contain Illinois’ sophomore center.

Tisdale went scoreless for the next five minutes. Izzo called Ibok the game’s “unsung hero.”

“It’s always tough to win on the road in this league” said Izzo, celebrating his fifth Big Ten regular season title in 13 seasons. “But to win at a place that I have so much respect for in not only how they play, how they act, how they are. The fans here were unbelievable. That made it even sweeter to go in and win under that kind of adversity.”

Illinois (23-7, 11-6 Big Ten) had 17 turnovers, the team’s most since they last played Michigan State (23-5, 13-3) in a 63-57 Jan. 17 loss at East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State had 11 steals.

“They play great defense,” Meacham said. “You have to give them credit, but some of the turnovers were careless turnovers that we usually don’t make.”

Michigan State outscored the Illini 42-16 in the paint. Sophomore guard Kalin Lucas, a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate, led the Spartans with 18 points, while a finally healthy Raymar Morgan added 14 points in 22 minutes off the bench.

The loss in an NCAA Tournament-like atmosphere will serve as a lesson for the Illini, Frazier said.

“We got to bring it from the jump,” Frazier said. “We can’t let them jump on us. We can’t wait to get punched to punch back. They just show you how tough it is to play against a high-level team. If we want to be a top-10 team like they are, then we have to compete at that level.”

Four Illini scored in double figures: Tisdale, Mike Davis (13 points), Frazier (10) and Demetri McCamey (10).

Though the loss put an end to its conference title aspirations, Illinois has plenty to play for – improved Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament seeding – as the team finishes its regular season slate with a trip to Penn State on Thursday.

“It’s not over. There’s a lot of basketball to go,” Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said. “We lost a game against a very good team. People have talked about them being a Final Four team. We battled them to the end … Now, we got to see if we can improve down the stretch.”