Notes: Illini defense gives Spartans trouble

Notes: Illini defense gives Spartans trouble

CHAMPAIGN — Aggressive defense has become an Illinois trademark in Brad Underwood’s first season. That holds especially true with the type of ball pressure Underwood likes to get on opposing point guards.

Illinois turned that ball pressure into 25 Michigan State turnovers — the most for the Spartans since 2005 — with Cassius Winston and Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. combining for a dozen turnovers between them.

“I felt like we could pressure them,” Underwood said. “I always feel pretty good when the other team is dribbling the ball around 14 or 15 or 16 seconds.”

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was a bit perplexed by the combination of his team’s ball security issues and the Spartans’ hyper efficiency on essentially any other offensive possession.

“The most turnovers in a decade and the highest field goal percentage. That doesn’t seem to add up,” Izzo said after Michigan State finished the game shooting 68 percent from the field — the best for an opposing team at State Farm Center since Northwestern’s shot just better than 65 percent in 1971.

“I’m hardest on my point guards,” Izzo continued. “Even though Cassius had the eight turnovers, in the first four that he had three of them were a big’s fault. They didn’t come up and pressure release. It was ridiculous what we did, and the point guard looks bad.

“This was a good experience for us. Nobody that I’ve seen that we played this year or last year put as much pressure on as then, yet it hurt them some because of those backdoors.”
The flip side of Illinois’ aggressive defensive tact was the number of layups — or dunks — Michigan State on backdoor cuts as the Illini put just as much effort into denying on the wing as they did pressuring the ball. The Spartans finished Monday night’s game with 10 dunks and were 13 of 15 on layups.

Underwood wasn’t overly concerned with Illinois getting beat backdoor.

“For us to pressure and force 25 turnovers, to give up four or five backdoors I’m OK with that,” he said.
Backdoor cuts, Underwood said, wasn’t what beat Illinois on Monday night. Getting out-rebounded 37-15 played a larger role in falling to the Spartans by 13 points.

Michigan State might have only had nine offensive rebounds, but that number means more when juxtaposed next to the 14 shots the Spartans missed all game. They ultimately rebounded 64 percent of their own misses.

“We’ve got to take more pride in that,” Illinois redshirt sophomore forward Kipper Nichols said about the Illini’s rebounding deficit. “We have to hit bodies when the ball goes up. We’ve got to find a way. We have to hone in on that for sure when we’re playing big teams.”

Nichols led Illinois with a career high 27 points. Trent Frazier added 13 points for the Illini, and Leron Black had 12 points on 6 of 10 shooting. They all helped Illinois put together a better performance than Friday’s 25-point loss at Wisconsin.

Nichols said the extra film review Saturday and a players only meeting Sunday helped the team get back on track Monday night.

“We came together, sat down and aired some things out,” Nichols said. “ n any locker room that builds morale, and I think that was good for us. … It didn’t matter if it was Michigan State (on Monday) or whoever. We’ve got to come out and fight. That’s what we’re trying to be about.”
Miles Bridges led Michigan State with a game-high 31 points. Jaren Jackson Jr. added 21 points and 11 rebounds and had a pair of highlight reel worthy plays. The Spartans’ 6-foot-11 freshman forward beat Illinois guard Mark Smith off the dribble for a dunk and also went coast to coast by himself for another dunk in traffic.

“The end to end with his left hand was big time,” Izzo said. “Everybody looks at him as just a three-point shooter. He’s far from that. In this game because they pressured him so much he was able to show he can put it on the floor. For a 6-11 guy to do that the way he did it was impressive.”

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Moonpie wrote on January 23, 2018 at 9:01 am

But they still got their fannies paddled.

They are 10-11.

I suppose all that awesome defense that didn't change anything makes this a -- yes, wait for it: moral victory!