MSU pulls it out, 51-41. If I had to describe this game in four words, they would be U-G-L-Y.
On defense, things went swimmingly. Illinois is a very poor shooting team to start out with, and MSU played tough man-to-man defense all night. The result:
- 11-28 shooting on 2-pointers (39.3%)
- 4-22 shooting on 3-pointers (18.2%)
- 7-19 shooting from the line (36.8%)
- 0.63 points per possession
Remarkably, all 4 of Illinois’ 3-pointers came in a 3-minute stretch when they took the lead late in the first half. Subtract that stretch and the Illini shooting was as frigid as the air outside the arena. Any time your opponent’s high scorer has 7 points (Brock/Meacham), you’ve played great defense.
On offense, things could have gone better, to put it mildly. Once again, turnovers were a major problem–19 in 65 possessions (29.2%). Lucas really struggled tonight: 4 turnovers, zero assists. Most maddening was watching MSU turn the ball over four times in the last two minutes–with all three point guards on the floor for most of that time.
And they didn’t do much with the possessions they actually shot the ball on. They didn’t make a single 3-pointers (0-9) all night. In fact, by my count they only made 2 shots outside 12 feet (Morgan early in the first; Neitzel early in the second).
What saved MSU from an upset was getting to the line. They made 19 of 25 free throw opportunities. The Illini were called for 23 fouls, and probably deserved to be called for a few more as they bumped and knocked over Spartan players all night.
Neitzel led the way, making all 7 of his attempts from the line. Despite going 0-6 from 3-point range, he managed to score 15 points. He fueled the Spartan resurgence in the second half, scoring 9 points in a 3-minute stretch to overcome a 4-point halftime deficit.
It’s an ugly box score, so I won’t break it down any further than I already have. Instead, let’s focus on the bright side of life: MSU has achieved it’s best start ever at 19-2. As much as it feels like the Spartans have underachieved to date, 19 wins in 21 games is pretty darn good.
Next game: 8:00 Saturday at Penn State. Big Ten Network.
IU and Wisconsin play tomorrow night at 9:00 on ESPN. Somebody’s gotta lose.