Illinois men’s basketball continues hot streak with 75-66 victory over Michigan State

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Sidney Malone

Illinois Fighting Illini basketball takes on the Michigan State Spartans at State Farm Center on January 13, 2023.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

After dominating Nebraska on the road earlier in the week, Illinois men’s basketball returned to State Farm Center to take on Michigan State. The Illini turned in a massive performance to down the Spartans by a 75-66 result.

“I thought there were some very interesting opportunities tonight,” said head coach Brad Underwood, “Before the game going in because they can play really big and they can play really small. We can do the same thing so I thought there was a little chess match going on within the game itself. I obviously love our defense during the last ten to twelve minutes of the game. It’s been fifteen years since we have held a team without a three and it was a very big stat for us.”

Underwood stuck to what has become his regular starting five of senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr., freshman guard Sencire Harris, fifth-year forward Matthew Mayer, junior forward Coleman Hawkins and redshirt sophomore forward Dain Dainja.

Play in Champaign started off strong for the Illini, with the team taking advantage of an initially sloppy Spartan offense. Shannon led the way in scoring early on and went head to head with Michigan State on each possession. During the opening 10 minutes, the Chicago native had put up 15 of Illinois’ 19 points.

The Illini’s strong defensive form from the past few games continued early on as the Spartans struggled and turned the ball over. However, it did not last as the half progressed, with Michigan State heating up and tying the game at 19-19 midway through the first period.

The Spartans then gained their first lead of the night shortly after A.J. Hoggard finished from close range to boost the visitors to a 21-19 lead. The Illini began to falter, suffering a 2:09 scoring drought that allowed the Spartans to go on an 8-0 scoring run.

Dainja eventually ended the drought after shooting 2-2 from the line to decrease the deficit to four points. After Dainja finished a floater from close range shortly after, Mayer added a big triple at the 7:17 mark to regain the lead at 26-25 for the Illini.

However, Illinois wasn’t able to conjure any momentum and fell into another extended scoring drought. The sharp play in the opening 10 minutes of the game was gone as the Illini failed to take care of the ball and shot a poor 1-8 from the field heading into the final two minutes of the half.

Freshman guard Jayden Epps gave the Illini life with 1:37 remaining, cutting the seven-point deficit down to four after knocking down a shot from beyond the arc. Heading into halftime, Illinois found itself down 37-33.

Dainja opened the second half scoring for the Illini. Amped up defense from the home side forced the Spartans into missing seven straight attempts from the field, though the Illini couldn’t capitalize on the other end of the floor. Despite getting within three points thanks to Epps and Dainja, Michigan State continued to add to its score and Illinois trailed 48-41 with 14:36 remaining.

In a scary moment for the Illini, Harris went down at the 12:17 mark and did not return to the game.

Following Harris’ injury, Illinois continued to battle back and Mayer tied the score at 54-54 with a huge three-point make that caused State Farm Center to erupt. Dainja added two free throws to boost the Illini to a 56-54 lead before Mayer contributed yet another triple for the team’s 10-0 scoring run.

“It felt great,” Mayer said. “I got a good little bucket and coach Underwood starting running plays for me. I think he’s one of the best coaches I’ve seen at just running plays for people that are hot and we just ran the same play every single time, for like fifteen straight possessions.”

Despite getting a five-point lead, the Illini slowed as the Spartans battled back and tied the game at 60-60. Hawkins wasted no time in knocking down a big three-point shot before Dainja added another bucket from inside the paint. Illinois led 65-60 at the 3:42 mark.

“I definitely felt like I wore them down a little bit,” Dainja said. “I talked with some of the coaches and they just wanted me to get a deeper position down there. They know I’m so effective down there. The lower I am, the easier it is.”

The final three minutes saw another tight back and forth between both teams but the Illini were able to answer each Spartan bucket with a make of their own. Illinois began to pull away in the final 2:30 and closed out the game by a 75-66 score. The Illini are now on a three-game winning streak in the Big Ten.

Illinois (12-5 overall, 3-3 B1G) will be back in action on Monday as it travels to face Minnesota on the road.

 

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