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Michigan State pulls away from Illinois in second half
East Lansing, MI (Sports Network) - Keith Appling scored a game-high 24 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out seven assists, as 13th-ranked Michigan State utilized a big second half to take down Illinois, 80-75 in a Big Ten Conference showdown Thursday at Breslin Center.
Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine each netted 14 points for the Spartans (18-4, 7-2 Big Ten), who trailed by 10 points at halftime, but outscored the Illini 53-38 in the second half en route to bouncing back from a loss Sunday at Indiana.
Tracy Abrams scored 16 points and dished out six helpers and D.J. Richardson added 14 points for the Fighting Illini (15-7, 2-6), who have lost five of six.
After the Spartans turned the ball over nine times in the first half and lacked consistency, the start of the second half revealed a completely different looking team.
Valentine's steal-and-score thirty seconds in set the tone for MSU, that it wasn't going to let one slip away at home.
The Spartans opened up with a 14-0 run, while Illinois turned the ball over four times and missed four shots. Derrick Nix's lay-in just over four minutes in made it 41-37 in favor of the home team.
Harris' driving layup across the middle of the lane extended the lead to 51-43, but the Illini kept battling -- a theme that would remain constant -- to get within 57-55 after Abrams hit a three with just over nine minutes to play. It capped off a spurt in which the visitors scored on four straight possessions.
Just when it looked that the Spartans distanced themselves enough, maintaining their edge as the game winded down, a Brandon Paul triple with 2:57 left brought Illinois within two, 69-67.
Appling then nailed a free throw before Branden Dawson's own highlight dunk and Appling's spinning left handed layup under one minute to play, which made it 74-68 and provided a cushion for MSU to hold on for the win.
Illinois came out firing on all cylinders and quickly led 8-0 just three minutes into the action. Michigan State, though, didn't falter and got back with 12-10 on a pretty alley-oop from Valentine to Adreian Payne, who slammed the ball down with authority.
Illinois kept the pressure up with a 16-8 flurry with just over 7 1/2 minutes left in the first half and scored seven unanswered points to head into halftime up 37-27.
The Spartans have won six straight matchups at home in the series ... The Illini shot 36 percent (9-of-25) from behind the arc ... Michigan State shot 59.5 percent from the floor (25-of-42) ... Dawson finished with 12 points and nine boards in win ... The Spartans have yet to lose at home this season with a 13-0 mark ... The team has now won 30-of-31 at Breslin Center ... The Illini have dropped seven of their last 10 games overall.
01/31 22:33:56 ET
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