EAST LANSING, Mich. — It isn’t always easy going home. Just ask Illinois’ Amber Moore.
Moore, who played high school basketball at Detroit Country Day, made her final trip to Michigan as a collegiate player a memorable one, helping the Illini defeat Michigan State 61-51 on Thursday night in Big Ten women’s basketball.
“I told (Moore) before the game, ‘Let’s get this done. We didn’t get it done at Michigan last year or this year, so let’s get this done at Michigan State,’ ” UI coach Matt Bollant said. “To see her with tears in her eyes in the locker room and our team so excited for her was really neat.”
Moore had nine points to help the Illini rally in the second half, when they closed on a 20-8 run.
Ivory Crawford scored a team-high 14 points for Illinois, which received a double-double from freshman Jacqui Grant (13 points, team-high 10 rebounds) and 12 points from Sarah Hartwell. Alexis Smith contributed nine points and a team-high six assists.
“We said before the game, ‘Anything is possible for those who believe, so let’s believe in ourselves,’ ” Bollant said. “We challenged them that in practice. We always fight so hard and battle, but we don’t always do that in games. We did that for the first time in the second half. We got down eight in the second half, and we said, ‘Let’s embrace this. Put a smile on your face and go make plays.’ And we did.”
Hartwell and Grant each delivered with the game on the line.
“I thought Sarah Hartwell’s three in the corner was really big, then Jacqui stepping up and making a three, then getting to the rim as well.”
The Illini went 19 of 25 at the free throw line, while the Spartans were 8 of 15.
“They fought for each other,” Bollant said. “I think MSU is as good a rebounding team as we’ve faced in our league. For us to make 19 free throws, more than they attempted, we haven’t done that all year.”