LIVE! At No. 18 Michigan State

Illinois 53, No. 18 Michigan State 46 — FINAL

EAST LANSING, Mich. — The wacky 2013-14 Big Ten basketball season took another strange turn on Saturday at the Breslin Center as the Illini stifled the potent Michigan State offense, handing Tom Izzo's squad its second straight loss. It's the first time this season the 18th-ranked Spartans have lost back-to-back games.

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Tracy Abrams scored a team-high 12 points while Rayvonte Rice and Malcolm Hill each added 10 for Illinois, which has won three straight and four of their last six.

It's the fourth consecutive opponent Illinois has held below 50 points. Michigan State entered the game averaging 77.3 points per game and had been averaging just under 80 points in games immediately following a loss.

The Spartans got a game-high 19 points from sophomore guard Gary Harris. No one else reached double figures.

More later on HQ.

Illinois 40, No. 18 Michigan State 36,  — 11:05 second half

The Illini are playing with a great deal of confidence today against the Spartans, a team many project to be a factor in the national title hunt once they return to full strength. All the bodies are out here today for MSU, but Appling and Dawson are still somewhat banged up.

You've got to play almost perfect to beat these guys here and Illinois has left a handful of opportunities out there. Have to expect the Spartans to make a run.

John Groce called Branden Dawson one of the best offensive rebounders in the country this week. Anyone want to argue with him? The guy is relentless. He's got seven boards, four are on the offensive glass

Nnanna Egwu has four points, four rebounds and three blocks in 20 minutes. He's played even better than those numbers indicate.

Boy, Keith Appling gets away with the travel from the three-point line a lot. Nnanna Egwu made the one early in the half not hurt by swatting the shot away.

Overheard in the Alumni Izzone: "Gary Harris needs to touch the ball."

Truer words have never been spoken.

Former Illini D.J. Richardson on Twitter: "Tracy can take this team to another (level) when he plays like this."

No. 18 Michigan State 28, Illinois 28 — Halftime

How good is Gary Harris? He's buried a couple of threes with defenders all over him. And that dunk finish in traffic was pretty special. He's got to jump to the NBA after this season, right?

"Way to play, Gary, way to play," Izzo yelled at Harris.

Only 10 fouls were called in half, three of them in the final 10 seconds.

Harris has been a key in getting the Spartans back in this one after the Illini led by 12 early.

Maverick Morgan has done a pretty decent job guarding Adreian Payne. He probably hasn't guarded anyone better in his short career.

The key for Illinois, if it expects to have a legitimate chance to win this one today will be to withstand the Michigan State runs. The Spartans are going to go on some runs. They went on a quick 5-0 run out of the under-12 timeout when the Illini led by 12.

The Illinois bench with Gavin Schilling at the line: "Box out, bad free throw shooter."

Overheard from the Izzone alumni: "Illinois hasn't scored 84 points in a game since Dee Brown was on the squad."

Also overheard: "Hey, bro, that was a terrible call!"

Tracy Abrams really laid into Austin Colbert when MSU got that offensive rebound at the end of the half off the missed three-pointer by Adreian Payne.

Illinois shot 54.5 percent in the half (12 for 22) and 4 for 8 from three. The Illini didn't get to the foul lone.

Tracy Abrams leads the way with eight points. Kendrick Nunn had five.

Michigan State shot 45.8 percent from the floor (11 for 24) and 4 for 10 from three. The Spartans were 2 for 4 from the foul line.

Gary Harris leads with 11 points and three rebounds. CHicagoan Gavin Schilling also had three rebounds.

MSU won the rebounding battle 13-11.

Illinois 21, No. 18 Michigan State 9,  — 10:00 first half

Kendrick Nunn is really hot. He hit a three from about 4 feet behind the line.

Maverick Morgan continues to show nice touch around the basket. The freshman big man finished a short jumper in the paint with the left hand.

Illinois' defense continues to be impressive. The Illini, who have held three straight opponent under 50 points, have forced six turnovers at the midway point of the half.

The place went nuts when Branden Dawson went to the scorer's table to check in. It went even more nuts when he scored on a runner on his first possession of the game.

Graham Couch, who covers MSU, suggests on Twitter that Izzo is trying to light a fire under Matt Costello, starting Gavin Schilling over him.

Illinois went to a zone on the first defensive possession after the under-16 timeout. Loren Tate wasn't here to elbow me and exclaim "Is this the first zone?!?"

Kendrick Nunn got the defensive assignment on Gary Harris to start the game.

Scottie Pippen is here for some reason. Found out why. Pippen is good friends with former Spartan and current radio analyst Matt Steigenga

Groce had long talk with Abrams before the tip going over some last-minute adjustments. Whatever it was, it's working so far.

Illinois (16-12, 5-10) at No. 18 Michigan State (22-6, 11-4) — 3 p.m. (ESPN2)

There is indeed an Izzone filled with alumni today. The Michigan State students are on spring break already. Hard to believe it's spring break at some places already. The band is full of old-timers, too.

Today's Izzone gave Tom Izzo a rousing ovation about 20 minutes before the game when he walked onto the court.

Branden Dawson is really enjoying being on the floor with his teammates for the first time in a month. He hasn't stopped smiling.

Illinois assistant coach Jamall Walker joined the team here in East Lansing after they had already arrived. Walker was in Texas last night watching recruiting targets Jawun Evans and Elijah Thomas. Those two will play one another today in a playoff game.

Michigan State's baseball team lost to Eastern Illinois yesterday in Mississippi. It was the 500th career win for EIU coach Jim Schmitz. Congrats, Coach.

Illinois is starting its new usual lineup of Tracy Abrams, Kendrick Nunn, Rayvonte Rice, Malcolm Hill and Nnanna Egwu.

MSU will go with Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine, Gavin Schilling and Adreian Payne.

Mike Kitts, Pat Driscoll and D.J. Carstensen are your officials today.

Illinois (16-12, 5-10) at No. 18 Michigan State (22-6, 11-4) — 3 p.m. (ESPN2)

Conner Groce, the 8-year-old son of Illinois coach John Groce, was out on the floor enthusiastically rebounding for the Illini during the initial warmup here on the Breslin Center floor. Conner has as much energy as his dad.

Nnanna Egwu was the first Illinois player on the court today, along with Jon Ekey. Those two were a part of the most memorable play from Wednesday's win. Rayvonte Rice tapped the ball way into the air, Ekey left into the Orange Krush to save it to Egwu and then Egwu did one of his awkward fist pumps that he does.

Ekey poked fun at the big man after Wednesday's game.

"You can't help but react like that when someone makes a play like that," Egwu said Friday.

He said the team watched it on film a couple of imps and had a good laugh at his expense.

Branden Dawson wasn't out here getting up early shots with some of his other teammates, but he was out here for the first formal warmup, wearing a small padded brace on his injured right hand. Interestingly enough, Dawson broke his hand smacking a table during a film session in which he heard ESPNs Dan Dakich saying the key to Michigan State winning a national championship is going to hinge on Dawson's intensity during a game telecast. Dakich is calling today's game, Dawson's first in more than a month.

Michigan State is playing its first game in a week. The Spartans are well-rested and coming off a loss to rival Michigan last week. MSU is 5-0 after a loss this season, averaging just under 80 points in those games. Yikes!

Mike LaTulip is sporting a heck of a cut on his right cheek. The Illinois guard got caught by a Joseph Bertrand elbow in practice yesterday. He looks tougher than normal.

Kenny Kaminski was talking to someone courtside before the game about sitting out last season. The redshirt freshman dealt with a knee injury, but said he could have been available in the second half of the season. He really hated sitting out.

A couple of young MSU fans were granted the opportunity to walk around the court before the game and watch the Spartans take some shots. Their jaws were on the floor just watching. Then Denzel Valentine and Gary Harris came over to shake their hands and have a few words and they looked like kids on Christmas morning.

Illinois (16-12, 5-10) at No. 18 Michigan State (22-6, 11-4) — 3 p.m. (ESPN2)

Good afternoon from a very quiet Breslin Center. It was eerily quiet walking into the building today from my car and it's eerily quiet in here a couple of hour before tip.

Denzel Valentine went through a presume shooting workout with his older brother Drew, a member of the Spartans staff. Drew Valentine played at Oakland University. The brothers squared off in a game against one another last season when Denzel was a freshman.

I was asked more than a month ago who the most underrated player in the Big Ten was. I went with Denzel Valentine. He's been key in holding this thing together this season with all the injuries, along with Player of the Year candidate Gary Harris.

Harris and Keith Appling were also out here early shooting at the end opposite Valentine as the floor was being cleaned.

I believe today is some sort of alumni day. There were some folks who looked a bit older than college students walking around with instruments and I've sen some "Izzone Alumni" t-shirts floating around.

John Brenkus, from the ESPN show "Sports Science" is going on and around the court filming something for the series. It has something to do with heart rates and such. I'll try to catch up with him if time allows.

When the music finally came on here during presume, it was some slow, slow country song. Valentine, Appling and Adreian Payne all went palms up and asked "What are we listening to?"

The Illini are trying to win here for the first time since Dee Brown and James Augustine were wearing orange. The last win here was 2006. The Illini have lost seven in a row here at the Breslin Center.

I wrote a bit about the Illini feeling pretty good coming off a pair of wins at Minnesota and at home against a red-hot Nebraska team. They're keeping things in perspective, though.

"I think we don't' get too high or too low. We just stay right there in the middle and keep doing what we're doing," Joseph Bertrand said. "A lot of the games have been close and these last couple of games we've been able to push through at the end instead of letting them get a run there so that's been a big difference."

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billyh23 wrote on March 01, 2014 at 5:03 pm

the defense is top notch, but if this team does not start making free throws, and lay-ups (RICE)  this team will make a quick exit !!