LIVE! Pack the Hall

LIVE! Pack the Hall

Final: Michigan State 79, Illinois 75

Illinois was forced to come from behind time and time again on Sunday. Its final rally wasn't quite enough.

Michigan State (14-2, 2-1 Big Ten) held on for a hard-earned victory at the Assembly Hall in front of a crowd of 4,175 on Pack the Hall day.

Adrienne GodBold scored a game-high 28 points for the Illini (9-7, 2-2) before fouling out with 21.7 seconds left.

Ivory Crawford added 16 points, including six in the final 1:06.]

Jasmine Hines and Klarissa Bell led a balanced MSU attack with 18 points apiece.

Michigan State outrebounded the Illini 49-22.

Sunday's crowd was the largest for an Illini home game since the 2010 Pack the Hall promotion.

Michigan State 54, Illinois 50

11:22 left in Second Half

Hero: Courtney Schiffauer.

Every time the Illini make a push to catch the Spartans, this MSU forward has an answer. In one key stretch, Schiffauer scored seven of her team's 10 points to keep the Illini at bay. Not only does she have 11 points, but the redshirt senior is doing a job on the boards, too, with nine.

Goat: None.

Both teams really going at it. Every possession is a battle. Fun to watch.

What I'm thinking:

-- Just got the official attendance figure. The crowd of 4,175 is the largest since the 2010 Pack the Hall event.

-- The Illini are surviving the absence of Karisma Penn. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Week was called for her fourth foul with 18:44 left in the first half and left the game. She re-entered with 12:15 remaining. Penn has six points and four rebounds.

-- Illini still finding it tough to rebound with the Spartans, who lead 38-17 in that category.

-- The crowd isn't just big; it's fully engaged. Every time the Illini creep close, the crowd is reacting with full throat. Today, this is truly a home court advantage for Illinois.

End of First Half: Michigan State 40, Illinois 36

Hero: Illini perseverance.

Michigan State scored the first eight points and led by as many as 13 (24-11), but persistent Illinois battled back. A jumper by Ivory Crawford with 1:17 left pulled Illini into a 36-36 tie.

Goat: Illini rebounders

Illinois getting killed on the boards 27-11. Michigan State rebounders dominant on the offensive end, with 13.

What I'm thinking:

-- Impressive comeback by the Illini after such a rough start to the game.

-- It's becoming more and more obvious that pressure defense is so important to this Illini team. Typically outsized, they are going to lose rebound battles, but they can make up for it by getting the ball back by forcing turnovers.

-- Adrienne GodBold was huge in the Illini comeback. Senior guard scored seven of her team's nine points in one stretch, when Illini cut their deficit to 28-20. She leads the Illini with 12 points.

-- Illinois' two best players will have to watch their fouls. GodBold and reigning Big Ten Player of the Week Karisma Penn enter the second half with three fouls apiece.

-- Good thing Illini are hitting their three-pointers. They're 4 of 9. Would be a different game without those treys.

First Half: Michigan State 20, Illinois 11 with 11:50 left

Hero: Illini fans

Big, big crowd here today for Pack the Hall day. For the first time this season, B section needed to be opened to accomodate the number of fans on hand.

Goat: Illini shooters

Illinois missed its first six shots and was 1 for 9 to open the game. Currently 4 for 15 (26.7 percent).

What I'm thinking:

-- Great to see a big crowd for an Illini women's game. Had not reached 2,000 in attendance before today. Eager to find out what the crowd size is.

-- MSU not missing many shots (8 of 13), so there aren't many rebounds to be had for Illinois. Still, the rebounding disparity is eye-opening. The Spartans lead in that category 14-3.

-- MSU entered with a record of impressive balance in its scoring attack. We're seeing that today., Seven different Spartans have contributed to their 20-point total.

-- Illini pressure defense has kept Illini in this game. The Spartans have committed six turnovers. Pressure  helped Illinois recover from a 12-2 deficit. Then MSU pulled away again.

Just before tip-off:

For the first time this season, the Assembly Hall's B section was opened to fans for an Illini women's game. The crowd on "Pack the Hall" day is big enough that seating beyond A section is required.

This will be, by far, the biggest crowd of the season for the Illini women. No crowd has yet reached 2,000. That will be easily surpassed today.


Welcome to our live report from the Assembly Hall, where the Illini women's basketball team will face Michigan State at 3 p.m. today in a game being shown by the Big Ten Network.

The Illini enter on a roll, having won five of their last seven games, with one of those losses to then-No. 14 Purdue. Illinois has a 9-6 record and is 2-1 in the Big Ten.

Michigan State (13-2, 1-1) hasn't played since last Sunday, when current No. 8 Penn State had its way with the Spartans, 76-55. It was an untypical defensive performance for MSU, which entered  this past week ranked No. 2 nationally in scoring defense and No. 4 in field goal percentage defense.

That performance aside, today's game pits one team whose strength is offense (Illinois) against one whose strength is defense (MSU). It should be noted, however, that the Illini have made strides recently on defense. In their last game, they held Northwestern to 47 points. And in the stunning win against then-No. 6 Georgia, Illinois limited the Bulldogs to 59 points.

For what it's worth, Michigan State is 7-1 in its last eight visits to Champaign. Perhaps what's more sigificant is that Illinois is merely 5-4 in home games this season. The Illini actually have a better record on opponents' courts: 3-1.

What should help Illinois today assert its home-court advantage is the school's Pack the Hall promotion. Admission is free and with the team playing well lately, it will be interesting to see how many people show up to check out Matt Bollant's squad. Although attendance is up from last season, Illinois has yet to attract a crowd as large as 2,000. Bollant said earlier in the week he was hopeful for 5,000. With the UI's spring semester starting on Monday and a certain percentage of students presumably already back on campus, perhaps that will help the crowd size. From my observations, however, the people coming out to watch this team this season are largely from the community and the area. This program has work to do when it comes to attracting a student following.

During his five seasons at Wiscons-Green Bay, Bollant's Phoenix teams faced Michigan State once, but it was a high-stakes matchup with an eye-opening outcome. In March 2011, UWGB and the Spartans met in the NCAA tournament with a berth in the Sweet 16 at stake. The Phoenix beat the reiging Big Ten champions 65-56 in a history-making performance. It was the first time UWGB never had advanced beyond the second round of the tournament.

As was the case in that game, Suzy Merchant will be on the bench for MSU today. We bet she hasn't forgotten the last time she coached against Bollant.

For the second straight game, Illinois will be without one of its top reserves. Redshirt junior forward Kersten Magrum is sidelined with symptoms of a concussion. Magrum suffered a concussion in the fall -- the third of her UI career -- and now is struggling with the same effects. Look for sophomore reserve forward Taylor Tuck's minutes to increase in Magrum's absence. Freshman McKenzie Piper and sophomore Nia Oden could see more time, too, depending on foul situations and matchups.

We picked Illinois to prevail in this one 60-59, but I have to admit I feel more shaky about this prediction than any previous one this season. Michigan State is tall, long and typcially plays tough-to-crack defense. I suspect a lot of other people would have gone with the Spartans. I was persuaded to side with Illinois because it is playing so well lately, and by the fact that its own defense is making more of an impact. Opponents are turning the ball over like crazy, averaging 28.5 against Illinois in the last four games. In its three Big Ten games, Illini opponents are averaging 29.3 turnovers. Yes, there are unforced turnovers in every game, but those numbers largely reflect an Illini defense that's bringing the heat.

We'll update this report at the midpoint and end of each half, so be sure to check back in.

-- Jeff Huth


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