LIVE! Illinois upsets Michigan State

LIVE! Illinois upsets Michigan State

CHAMPAIGN — Quite the way to win consecutive Big Ten games for the first time all season.

Illinois built its lead Tuesday night against No. 9 Michigan State by forcing a slew of turnovers, withstood a stretch of nearly 8 minutes without a made field goal in the second half as the Spartans stormed back and finished off its 79-74 upset win at the free throw line.

Ayo Dosunmu led Illinois with 24 points, Giorgi Bezhanishvili had 16, Trent Frazier 15 and Andres Feliz 10 in the biggest win not only of this season but the entire Brad Underwood era.

****

Illinois 61, Michigan State 58 — 7:38 left in 2nd half

The Spartans are on a 12-3 run in the last four minutes and pulled within three points thanks to a Cassius Winston three-pointer — that he shot after Aaron Henry's missed dunk rebounded right back to him at the three-point line. Meanwhile, Illinois hasn't made field goal in nearly six minutes. So that's how a 12-point Illini advantage has almost disappeared completely. Should be quite the finish.

****

Illinois 58, Michigan State 46 — 11:57 left in 2nd half

Cassius Winston is working on a triple-double tonight for Michigan State. The Spartans' point guard has 10 points, eight assists and ... nine turnovers so far. The turnovers are already a new career high. His last? Eight ... last year against Illinois. The Illini defensive pressure and Winston apparently don't mix well. That said, if the Spartans can go for a four-minute stretch or so without a turnover, well, this game tightens up in a hurry. Michigan State is still shooting 57.7 percent from the field.

****

Illinois 51, Michigan State 39 — 15:50 left in 2nd half

Here's how Illinois' 12-point lead isn't bigger. Every time the Illini seem to get a momentum-shifting bucket (like Tevian Jones finishing an alley oop and the and-one free throw), Michigan State gets a quick shot in transition. After Jones' three-point play, Nick Ward beat everybody down the court for a layup. Momentum at least halted a bit.

****

Illinois 41, Michigan State 32 — Halftime

Here's the thing. That was probably one of the best halves of basketball Illinois has played this season. Illinois forced 17 Michigan State turnovers (the Spartans' season high for a game is 22), and the Illini turned those into 18 points. Ayo Dosunmu is well on his way to another 20-point game with 14 so far, and he's one of four Illini to hit at least one three-pointer. Dosunmu and Trent Frazier, in fact, have two apiece.

Still, if it feels like Illinois should be leading by more than nine points after forcing 17 turnovers, well, you're probably not wrong. When Michigan State has been able to hold on to the ball long enough to get a shot off the Spartans have been effective. They're shooting 58.8 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from three-point range and 90 percent at the free throw line. That nine-point margin doesn't seem quite so large in that context.

But it was a good first half and a nine-point lead is better than a nine-point deficit. To the Twitter machine!

****

Illinois 27, Michigan State 18 — 7:35 left in 1st half

Not much has really changed in the first half. Michigan State continues to be bothered by Illinois' defensive pressure. The Spartans have 13 turnovers, and Cassius Winston is responsible for five of them. Tom Izzo can't even play his point guard and best player right now. Huge advantage for the Illini.

****

Illinois 18, Michigan State 13 — 11:53 left in 1st half

Some good things still happening for Illinois. The Illini have forced eight Michigan State turnovers now (still on pace for 32 for the game) and have turned those miscues into seven points. Plus, Trent Frazier, Ayo Dosunmu and Aaron Jordan have all hit a three-pointer. And the Illini are 3 of 4 at the free throw line. Eight minutes down, 32 to go. 

****

Illinois 10, Michigan State 7 — 16:00 left in 1st half

Here's the most important stat of the first four minutes of today's game. Michigan State already has four turnovers, putting the Spartans on pace for 32 in the game. Hitting that particular number probably isn't likely, but the Illini are both turning over Michigan State and making Cassius Winston's looks difficult in the early going. Add in an even rebounding battle so far, and those are basically all the things the Illini need/want in this game. Have to keep doing it of course.

****

Illinois vs. No. 9 Michigan State — 6 p.m., BTN

Both the Illini and Spartans like to push the tempo. That's when they're both at their best offensively. So either this game is going to go 100 mph from the opening tip or one or both of these teams will lock down defensively and turn this into a grinder.

"They’re very fast in transition, so we’ve been working a lot on transition and getting back on defense," Illinois sophomore guard Trent Frazier said. "Put in a few things to stop that. Our main focus is transition, offensive rebounding and ball pressure — wearing them out."

Illinois is looking to make a statement tonight. The Illini already beat one ranked team this season, taking down then No. 13 Maryland in New York City. They'd like to make it two.

"We want to come out here and win," freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu said. "We just want to show the world we’re here and that we’re ready. We’re going to show we’re actually here and can compete with the top teams in the country."

****

Illinois vs. No. 9 Michigan State — 6 p.m., BTN

A few pregame notes ...

— Illinois is wearing its orange Flyin' Illini era throwbacks tonight against the Spartans. Michigan State is countering with its very dark green (black?) alternates with neon green trim. Color rush on national TV.

— The Illini throwbacks make sense given tonight is the fifth of five bobblehead nights honoring the Flyin' Illini. Nick Anderson wraps up the promotion. There will be a Flyin' Illini reunion at State Farm Center on Feb. 23 (the Penn State game).

— Per the Detroit News' Matt Charboneau, Nick Ward will not start for Michigan State but his minutes will apparently remain the same. I'd expect Xavier Tillman to replace Ward in the Spartans' starting lineup.

****

Illinois vs. No. 9 Michigan State — 6 p.m., BTN

Illinois has a pretty fair idea about the kind of mindset Michigan State might bring into tonight's game given the Spartans have lost their last two games. Considering Michigan State hasn't lost three straight games since the 2016-17 season, the Spartans might have a little extra motivation.

"Coach told us they practice twice (Sunday) and one was at 6 a.m.," Illinois sophomore guard Trent Frazier said. "They’re hungry right now, and they’re going to come in with a lot of fight. We’ve got to bring that same energy and match it.

"I think we can beat anybody. We’ve just got to come out here and execute the plan, play for 40 minutes. I don’t think we care whether they have a number by their team — a ranking. Every team we come out here and play, we’re going to play them the same way we play every team. Hard."

As motivated as Michigan State might be, though, Illinois isn't exactly lacking in that department.

"We’re hungry, too," freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu said. "We’re hungry because when we came out and beat Maryland we laid an egg at Minnesota. I know they’re coming in hungry, but we’re hungry, too, trying to get two in a row. We’ve got to be mentally tough and locked in for 40 minutes."

****

There's just something about being at home. No travel worries or concerns. Familiar surroundings. The support of an entirely partisan — in your favor — crowd. While State Farm Center might not boast the same type of home court advantage it once did (it's ranked 227th nationally by KenPom), Illinois is hoping for a little bit of it tonight against No. 9 Michigan State.

The Illini (7-15, 3-8 Big Ten) are in the middle of a three-game homestand. They took care of business on Saturday with a win against Nebraska (poor free throw shooting aside), but to win consecutive conference games for the first time this year Illinois has to take down the Spartans (18-4, 9-2).

Not exactly an easy task.

Some combination of the way Illinois played at home against Minnesota, in New York City against Maryland and back at State Farm Center against Nebraska (again, except for the missed free throws) probably has to come together to beat Michigan State.

The Spartans have lost two in a row, so they're either vulnerable or feeling rather perturbed. Even without Joshua Langford (out for the season with a stress injury in his foot), Michigan State is probably more of the latter rather than the former. Cassius Winston, Nick Ward and Co. are still around.

So that's the challenge Illinois faces tonight at State Farm Center. With tipoff an hour away, now's the time to get caught up on some of our Illini hoops coverage from the past few days ...

Starters, stats, storylines and the beat writer's pick

Asmussen: Battle receivers a hero's welcome

Tate: Sensible fixes to save sports

Frazier strives to be among Big Ten's best defenders

CHAMPAIGN — Trent Frazier is pretty straightforward about it. Doesn’t exactly mince words.

Illinois’ sophomore point guard said he “didn’t really play defense” until he arrived in Champaign last season. Becoming a better defender as a freshman was a challenge he gave himself. This season? Frazier has made it clearly known he has his eyes set on being a Big Ten All-Defensive Team selection.

“I didn’t really know how good people were at this level,” Frazier said. “I always tell (Illini assistant coach Chin Coleman) I want to be first team all-defense. I sit down and guard everyone. All those guards, I make it hard on them with  my quickness and my speed and just getting all over them.”

Frazier has drawn some difficult defensive assignments this season, and he’s delivered. Like against Gonzaga point guard Josh Perkins, who might have had 10 points and nine assists but was bothered into seven turnovers. Or when he face-guarded Anthony Cowan the entire second half and made Maryland’s scoring leader a non-factor in Illinois’ upset victory. Or locking up Glynn Watson Jr. in the first half of Saturday’s 71-64 win against Nebraska.

Frazier will draw another one of those challenges when Illinois (7-15, 3-8 Big Ten) faces No. 9 Michigan State (18-4, 9-2) at 6 p.m. tonight at State Farm Center. Spartans point guard Cassius Winston is a potential Big Ten MVP.

To continue reading, click here. Then keep coming back to IlliniHQ.com before, during and after the game for more Illinois basketball coverage.

-