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.
"Well, we have a new special tonight," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "The numbers do lie. To shoot 70 percent for the game and out rebound a team by nine and play that poorly, the numbers lie. I'm very pleased and I told you guys we have been taking small steps forward, but we took a giant step backwards in the first half. Inexcusable effort and inexcusable performance."
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.
"It's hard as a coach to give your team credit," Izzo said. "You wonder why coaches never give their team credit because too many other people are on Twitter giving them the credit and some guys couldn't handle it. I thought we had some guys who showed they couldn't handle success and it bothers me and shows out lack of leadership. We're going to have to grow on it and gain from it. I thought Dawson gave a good speech in the locker room as to why he was so inept which is a positive."
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.
02/01 00:01:36 ET