So close, yet so far: Illinois 78, Michigan State 73

I think we have to start with the player bullets tonight.  We'll go roughly from the very good to the very bad; the range of Spartan performances was unusually large in this game.

  • It's a shame MSU lost this game if for no other reason that it will probably prevent Draymond Green's performance from reaching truly legendary status.  And it deserves that status: 17 points, 16 rebounds (6 on offense), 3 assists (3 TOs), and one blocked shot against a player who's at least 7 inches taller than he is.  That assist figure understates the extent to which Green was the primary playmaker for the Spartans tonight.  See, for example, the back-to-back passes to Morgan in the lane late in the game, the first of which turned into 2 points at the line and the second of which resulted in, the officials decided, a jump ball.  It's not hyperbolic to say that Draymond Green single-handedly prevented this game from being an MSU loss by 15+ points.
  • . . . as evidenced by the fact that the second guy on this list is the player who started the game at point guard and was, not to put to fine a point on it, an unmitigated disaster in that position.  Chris Allen turned the ball over on 2 of MSU's first 6 possessions, in both cases on miscues of the clearly-not-meant-to-be-a-point-guard variety.  After Korie Lucious entered the game at the 14:44 mark, Allen did not return to point guard duties.  To his credit, he shook off the POINT GUARD FAIL and performed quite nicely as a shooting guard, hitting 4 of 6 three-pointers to pull MSU back from the brink on two different occasions.
  • Your most efficient point guard tonight?  That would be first-time-ever-in-real-action walk-on Mike Kebler.  2 assists and ZERO turnovers in 5 minutes.  He got the ball up the court, found open shooters or other players who could initiate offensive moves toward the basketball, and played more-than-adequate defense.  (The MSU offense was most successful at the end of the game when Lucious followed the Kebler model: get the ball up the court and then find an open player who can initiate the offense.)  If Kalin Lucas can't play Tuesday night, I think we need to see Kelber in double-digit minutes against Purdue.
  • Garrick Sherman scored 6 points in 15 minutes.  He also played very good defense on Mike Tisdale, forcing a travel and the world's ugliest looking hook shot attempt.
  • Durrell Summers only managed 11 points on 13 FGA.  But he was solid with the ball in his hands (2 assists, zero turnovers) and hit the 3-pointer that gave us life in the final half-minute.
  • Delvon Roe: 8 points and 2 rebounds in 20 minutes.  A couple authoritative moves to the basket--one for a monstrous dunk, one for an and-one layup.
  • Isaiah Dahlman and Austin Thornton each scored a basket in first-half appearances (both assisted by Green, if I'm not mistaken).  Thornton's was particularly notable--a jumper at the buzzer to close within 1 point going into halftime.  Three rebounds for Thornton, too.
  • Raymar Morgan made some key plays in this game, but disappeared for large stretches.  Only 8 points on 6 FGA in a team-high 34 minutes (also: 3 each of rebounds, assists, and turnovers).  I realize it's a tough gig for Morgan to find offensive opportunities without an effective point guard in the game, but your senior star has to find more ways to contribute in this situation.  He also lost Mike Davis on multiple opportunities, allowing Davis to knock down several of his plethora of 15- to 18-foot jumpers.  (To be fair, Green lost him a few times, too.)
  • Derrick Nix: Pretty good defense in the opening minutes of the game.  Picked up 2 quick fouls in the opening minutes of the second half.
  • That brings us to Korie Lucious.  As bad as Lucious' stat line was--1 for 5 from the field, 3 assists, 6 turnovers--it really doesn't fully reflect how ineffective he was in his 27 minutes on the court.  He looked overmatched and overanxious for almost the entire game.  Tom Izzo tried to take some pressure off him by not starting him, but he still looked like he was pressing.  Even his dribbling skills--normally a strength--seemed to fail him, and he telegraphed a multitude of passes.  You hate to pin a loss on one player being asked to take on a significantly-increased role in a hostile environment, but you have to think that, had Lucious been just average tonight, MSU wins this game.

In the final analysis, despite a turnover percentage of 27.3, MSU managed to score 73 points in 66 possessions.  When they got the ball into/near the lane, they scored very efficiently (23-37 on 2-point attempts; 62.2%) and they crashed the boards with abandon (44.0%)--led, of course, by Draymond Green in both cases.

 

Illinois was too good offensively, largely due to the performance of Demetri McCamey: 22 points on 6-9 three-point shooting, 11 assists, 2 turnovers.  McCamey was deadly whenever he had even a foot of space outside the 3-point arc.  His 3-pointer over Lucious' out-stretched arms with 39 seconds to put Illinois up 5 was one more long-distance dagger than MSU could overcome.

Give the Spartan players credit for battling back on multiple occasions to keep this game from becoming a blow-out.  Being forced to operate without Kalin Lucas to bail the offense out may, in fact, be of benefit a few weeks from now.  But tonight  Lucas' absence would appear to have cost us what would have otherwise been a highly-winnable game.

The margin for error in the Big Ten race is very quickly dropping to a level of "none at all":

TEAM CONF. W-L OVERALL W-L
Michigan State 9-2 19-5
Wisconsin 8-3 18-5
Illinois 8-3 16-8
Ohio State 7-3 17-6
Purdue 7-3 19-3
Minnesota 5-5 14-8
Northwestern 4-6 15-7
Michigan 4-7 11-12
Indiana 3-6 9-12
Iowa 2-8 8-15
Penn State 0-11 8-15

 

Having dismantled the Wolverines in Ann Arbor this afternoon, Wisconsin only has 3 road games remaining (Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois).  Ohio State, meanwhile, is feeling pretty confident, having reeled off 6 straight Big Ten wins with a healthy Evan Turnver in the lineup (Iowa looks to be the 7th victim Sunday afternoon).  And Purdue comes calling in East Lansing just 68 hours from now (Tuesday, 9:00, ESPN).

Kalin Lucas says he plans to be back for that game.  But it remains to be seen whether his ankle will allow him to back up that assertion--and, if so, how effective he'll be.  Assuming that Lucas won't be able to go 30 minutes at full speed, Tom Izzo has his work cut out for him in (1) restoring Korie Lucious' confidence/competence and/or (2) figuring out another player/method to get the ball into scoring position without a turnover on something close to 8 out of every 10 MSU possessions.

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