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Michigan State pulls away from Illinois

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The Spartans roll past the Fighting Illini

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

EAST LANSING — Tom Izzo wasn’t happy after the Spartans crushed Western Michigan, 95-62, last Sunday.

He was particularly upset with his big men — going as far as to say he was “totally disappointed in them.”

So it shouldn't come as a surprise to fans when I say this game started with Marcus Bingham Jr. making his presence felt from the jump.

“If I was a hockey guy, I’d put my star on a guy who didn't score a point,” said Izzo. “That was Marcus Bingham. He blocked some shots, he got some rebounds. He started to look like a player.”

Izzo decided to put Bingham on the Illinois 7-footer, Kofi Cockburn, to start the game, and Marcus answered the bell. He started the game with an early block (while defending Kofi) and a couple of rebounds.

The result? He had career-highs in rebounds (12) and blocks (5). If Izzo was looking for a response after his comments last week, he got a BIG one from Bingham.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Despite good halves from Winston, Henry, Tillman, and Bingham, the Spartans entered halftime up by just six points.

At the time, Illinois had shot and missed 11 three-pointers and was only shooting 35% from the field. But Michigan State came out of the half on fire.

Gabe Brown jumpstarted it with a couple of free throws. Tillman scored off of a beautiful dish from Cassius Winston, and then it was raining threes. Back-to-back baskets from long range (thanks to Tillman and Winston) was followed up by a jumper and three-point bucket from Brown to finish off a 15-3 run by MSU.

This gave Michigan State a 56-38 lead with 12:55 remaining.

By this point, I thought it was over, and it was. The Spartans wouldn't look back in the slightest. They were in complete control and finished off the Fighting Illini, 76-56.

Takeaways

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State took a step in the right direction tonight. I’m not sure anyone can deny that. They aren’t perfect, but they are closer to the team everyone; thought they would be.

“I don't think we’re close. I think we’ve had moments where we were, but I don't think we’re world beaters,” said Izzo.

Naturally, Izzo doesn't think this team is close to where they need to be. My question to fans is, what else is he supposed to say?

Nearly a month ago, people were unsure of this team coming off of a 77-65 victory over the Scarlet Knights. I understand being upset because MSU wasn't the No. 1 ranked team everyone thought they would be.

Back then, I merely stated this team would mesh (they did); they would win games (MSU hasn’t lost since the Duke game) and that they would once again compete for a Big Ten Championship.

The pieces have always been there, but these things take time, and tonight Spartan Nation finally got a taste.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t get me wrong; I understand Illinois shot poorly and are a much better basketball team than they showed on the road in East Lansing. However, Michigan State deserves a ton of credit — they played outstanding defense, stuck to their game plan, and had their best players blow up at the right time.

They looked like Michigan State.

Cassius is hitting his stride, Tillman is turning into the player fans expected. Aaron Henry continues to attack, defend, and rebound with the best of them. Gabe Brown is continuously showing flashes of brilliance and cementing his role as a vital part of this team’s success.

Foster Loyer is finding his pulse.

Tonight’s underlying message?

Good things take time. It’s okay to step back and live outside of the moment. It’s okay to wait and see.

This version of Michigan State basketball is here to stay, and it’s only going to get better from here.