Updated rapid recap: Illinois takes down Michigan State 73-70 on Senior Night

Malcolm+Hill+drives+to+the+basket+during+the+game+against+Michigan+State+on+March+1.+Columnist+Matt+Gertsmeier+says+that+though+the+Illini+could+use+a+fresh+start%2C+they+could+still+have+a+chance+in+their+must-win+game+against+Michigan.

Austin Yattoni

Malcolm Hill drives to the basket during the game against Michigan State on March 1. Columnist Matt Gertsmeier says that though the Illini could use a fresh start, they could still have a chance in their must-win game against Michigan.

By Lucas Wright, Staff writer

In front of a sold out State Farm Center on Senior Night, the Illinois men’s basketball team cemented its place in the NCAA Tournament conversation with a 73-70 win over Michigan State

The Illini closed out the conference win on the back of another stellar three-point shooting performance, making 11 from deep.

The first half opened with the Illini and Spartans trading blows early. Michigan State had an early lead with a couple threes to get the scoring started, but the period belonged to Illinois.

“It felt like a boxing match out there, a ten-rounder,” head coach John Groce said. “Watching them from their last two games, I thought they were really hitting on all cylinders. So we knew it was going to be a great challenge.”

Leron Black put on a particularly impressive display from deep. While Illinois struggled to get in gear, Black started 3-for-3 from the three point line, keeping the Illini offense afloat while senior Malcolm Hill struggled to get going.

After missing his first three shots, Hill heated up and poured in four of his next six, including two three-pointers and a floater in the lane after a spin move.

Illinois followed Hill’s lead with a run throughout the middle to late part of the first half, opening the lead up to double digits. The Illini finished 7-for-14 from deep in the half, leading to over half of the team’s points.

A late four-point swing led to Michigan State taking some momentum into halftime despite the six-point lead for Illinois.

With that momentum the Spartans jumped on the Illini early, putting together a 12-4 run to open the half, while Illinois’ offense stalled.

“Groce just told us that they weren’t going to quit. I mean they’re Michigan State,” Hill said. “We were going to make our runs, we just had to stay composed. They just hit a lot of big shots.”

Hill found the bottom of the net on a midrange jumper to stifle the Michigan State attack. From there, an Illinois three-point barrage set the offense back on track. Hill, Tracy Abrams and Michael Finke knocked three straight to jump back out in front by seven.

Steady shooting built around Maverick Morgan’s strong post presence carried the Illini through the remainder of the half.

“Today we just tried to look for the best option on the floor,” Morgan said. “If people have the matchups we want, we want them to take the shots.”

While the Spartans closed within three with just three seconds on the clock, a final three-point attempt was wide, giving Illinois the win.

In his final home game, Hill led the Illini with 22 points and zero turnovers. Morgan followed with 14 points and seven boards, while Black poured in 15 points and seven rebounds.

The win moved Illinois to 18-12, 8-9 on the season, and stretched the current win streak to four with one regular season game to play.

“For the last couple weeks we’ve been really locked in together,” Abrams said. “We’ve just been trying to do the best we can with our game plan and roll with it.”

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