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No. 10 Michigan State men’s basketball falls to No. 24 Illinois, 56-55

The Spartans are now behind Illinois in the Big Ten standings.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 14 Michigan at Illinois Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No. 10 Michigan State men’s basketball team fell to No. 24 Illinois on the road on Tuesday night by a final score of 56-55.

Last week, MSU had just beaten a top-10 Wisconsin team in Madison, 86-74. Meanwhile, Illinois was coming off of some lost momentum, losing two straight games to Purdue and Maryland. It was paramount for the Illini to show up against the Spartans.

One reason for Illinois’ troubles has been the absence of center Kofi Cockburn, who has been out due to concussion protocol and missed Tuesday night’s game as well. Andre Curbelo was also unavailable for the game against the Spartans, per the school’s health and safety protocols.

Tuesday’s game in Champaign, Illinois was far less welcoming for Michigan State.

Despite starting on a 5-0 run, things went south for Michigan State quickly. Heading into the second media timeout, MSU was down 17-9 after a brilliant performance by Illini senior guard Trent Frazier, going 4-for-5 from the field and 2-for-3 from beyond the arc during that run.

For a long period of time in the first half, it looked as though Michigan State was running down a cylinder. Silly mistakes, loss of awareness and missing the “little things” were a central reasons to MSU’s loss. Illinois took advantage even without its star players, making big-time three-point shots, getting rebounds at the offensive side of the court and taking the basketball away from MSU.

At the half, Illinois led Michigan State 34-20. It’s the lowest MSU scored in any half this season. The Illini’s lead at halftime was 14, but the largest it became was 15 points.

Perhaps the story of the game was two-fold: missed shots and far too many turnovers. While the latter has been an ongoing issue for MSU, missing shots is a new one. Max Christie — who has been the Big Ten Freshman of the Week five times this season — had a rough game, to note. He was 1-for-8 from the field and 0-for-3 beyond the arc, for a total of two points. Michigan State had nine turnovers at halftime, but did a better job in the second half, giving the ball away just twice and finishing with 11 turnovers to Illinois’ seven.

Only two Michigan State players — Marcus Bingham Jr. and Gabe Brown — had more than 10 points, surprising considering the team’s depth. Bench players Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard had zero points. Malik Hall was hardly present until the final five minutes of the game, finishing with seven points.

Joey Hauser was important again for Michigan State, being efficient in the second half. He made 40 percent of his two-point shots, half of his three-point shots, and half of his free throws. Hauser was key to MSU’s late surge, which eventually made Illinois’ lead just one point with less than a second remaining. Ultimately, it was the Spartans who fell, as Hall could not hit a pair of free throws to tie the game after drawing a foul with two-tenths of a second left in the game.

The Spartans shot poorly from the floor, going 19-for-55, just 34.5 percent, which was a big reason for the loss. Illinois went 22-for-53 from the field (41.5 percent).

MSU lost the game and first place in the Big Ten, as now Illinois has taken that spot. The Spartans drop to 15-4 (6-2 in the Big Ten). Illinois improves to 14-5 (7-2 in the Big Ten).

Michigan State will take on Michigan this Saturday (Jan. 29) at the Breslin Center. An earlier matchup on Jan. 8 was postponed due to health and safety protocols at Michigan. That game has yet to be rescheduled.