Michigan State Extends Winning Streak To Four With Road Win Over Illinois
On Sunday night, Branden Dawson (13 points) and Denzel Valentine (20 points) led the Spartans to a 60 - 53 win over Illinois. (Source: Mike Granse - USA Today Sports)

The last time these two teams met, the Illinois Fighting Illini went into East Lansing as an under-manned squad. That didn’t seem to faze the Illini, however, as they went into the Breslin Center and came away with a 59 – 54 win over the Spartans.

Since then, the Spartans have gone on a roll to get themselves back in the NCAA Tournament picture. After the loss to Illinois, Michigan State reeled off three straight victories to get themselves back in the race for second place in the Big Ten standings. The Spartans entered Sunday night playing some of their best basketball of the season, and were hoping to get some revenge on the Illini and keep their run going.

The Illinois Fighting Illini saw their four-game winning streak end in their last time out. After reeling off wins over the likes of the Spartans, Wolverines and the Nittany Lions, they ran into the conference powerhouse Wisconsin Badgers. The Illini got blown out on the road in Madison, losing 68 – 49 to the Badgers. Illinois came into Sunday night looking to bounce back from their loss to Wisconsin, and complete a season-series sweep of the Spartans in the process.

On Sunday evening in Champaign, Illinois, the Spartans continued their run of strong play, and scored some revenge in the process. Michigan State earned a split in the season series with Illinois, scoring a 60 – 53 win over the Illini on Sunday night.

Both teams struggled in the opening ten minutes of the game, with the score being just 12 – 9 in favor of Illinois when the first half crossed the halfway mark. Matt Costello recorded a layup for the Spartans with just over 12 minutes to go, and then the Spartans went scoreless for over three minutes. During that span, however, the Illini were unable to capitalize. Illinois was only able to stretch the lead to five, at 14 – 9, on a tip-in from Malcolm Hill.

Illinois left the door open for the Spartans, and they took full advantage. Branden Dawson recorded a dunk, and Bryn Forbes connected on a three pointer and the game was all knotted up at 14 – all with just under 9 minutes to play.

As the half closed, the teams would alternate the lead, with neither team taking a lead larger than four points. Luckily for the Spartans, they look their four-point lead at the end of the half, thanks to two jumpers from Travis Trice.

At the end of the first half, the Spartans held a 26 – 22 lead over the hometown Illini.

Michigan State opened the second half by pushing their lead to six points on three different occasions early on. At the 15:06 mark, Colby Wollenman drove the lane for a two handed flush that got the Spartans’ bench on their feet in a hurry. That gave the Spartans a 33 – 27 lead, but the Illini would keep hanging around.

Thanks to Malcolm Hill and Leron Black, Illinois would trim the Spartans’ lead down to four points. However, Michigan State would always have an answer on offense and would keep pushing the lead back to six.

Denzel Valentine would record a three pointer with 5:56 left to play, and Travis Trice would add three points of his own to give Michigan State their biggest lead of the game, at 11 points. Rayvonte Rice would score six points, and Jaylon Tate would add two points of his own, as the Illini would cut the lead to within three points with just over a minute to play.

Three points was as close as the Illini would get, as the Spartans led the entire second half and pushed the lead back up to seven down the stretch before the game finished. At the final buzzer, Michigan State came away with a 60 – 53 win over the Illinois Fighting Illini.

For the hometown Illini, guards Malcolm Hill and Rayvonte Rice led the charge on Sunday night. Hill scored a team-high 17 points, while Rice added 15 points off the bench in his first appearance against the Spartans this season, but it wasn’t enough to halt Michigan State.

As for Michigan State, the starting lineup of Dawson, Schilling, Nairn, Forbes, and Valentine seems to be working wonders for the team. Denzel Valentine scored a game-high 20 points, to go along with 9 rebounds and 2 assists in the win. Branden Dawson recorded 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks to help lead the Spartans to a victory.

The switch of Lourawls Nairn, Jr and Travis Trice in the lineup has worked out better than planned for the Spartans. Travis Trice has flourished since coming off the bench, and that trend continued with his 18 points against Illinois on Sunday. Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn has continued his development as a strong ball handler from the point position since stepping into the lineup. While he didn’t score a point on Sunday, he did record four assists and only committed one turnover in the win. Nairn is turning into a great player with the Spartans, and the coaching staff is slowly gaining more trust in “Tum Tum.”

The loss puts the Illinois Fighting Illini (17 – 10, 7 – 7) back on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament spot. With only four games left in the regular season, the Illini will need all of the wins they can get down the stretch. They go on the road on Wednesday to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes in their next time out.

Sunday marked the fourth straight win, and sixth win in seven games, for the Michigan State Spartans (19 – 8. 10 – 4). For the time being, the Spartans are tied for second in the conference standings, and are seeing their NCAA Tournament chances improve with each passing win. They will look to continue their strong play in their next time out, when they welcome the Minnesota Golden Gophers to town on Thursday.

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