One year ago, MSU played a game here that had much the same feel. The Spartans performed pretty well (without Kalin Lucas, by the way) but missed a valuable opportunity. Illinois made a lot of big shots (which was true in the first 30 minutes of this one, anyway). And after watching Draymond Green go for 17 and 16 on him, Bruce Weber compared Green with Charles Barkley.
Keep in mind, though, that Illinois was sagging -- and doubling Green when he caught it in the post, which must have taken him by surprise at first. But hey, the last time Illinois saw Green here, he was carving them up around the basket. I've never seen an Illinois team play with less aggression on the perimeter, but this team has to play that way because it so lacks muscle inside. When you throw in another dismal shooting night for MSU, well...
"If you're not shooting well, it's hard to get it in there," Izzo said.
All that said, MSU has to try harder. Yes, the Spartans missed a lot of good shots tonight, but when that's happening I think you have to step back, be patient, force it in there and try to get Green or Roe or Nix (who played his best game of the season, by the way) to the foul line if nothing else. Green got MSU back into the game with his driving 3-point play, and the more he does in that region, the better off this team will be.
And by the way, this team is playing better basketball. Nine turnovers, 17 offensive boards, 64 shots to Illinois' 47 -- and even though the Illini shot 53.2 percent (first MSU opponent to exceed 50 this season), I thought the Spartans guarded extremely well in the second half.
I mean, Illinois had one basket in the final 11:01, yet still won the game.
There are encouraging signs for MSU, but the Spartans' margin for error is disappearing. Saturday is critical. MSU needs to steal one at Purdue. And it needs these Fighting Illini to keep shooting like that and beat Ohio State in Assembly Hall.
It's also going to need a nap Wednesday after its chartered plane couldn't be de-iced. The Spartans are just embarking now on a loooooong bus trip home.
One last thing. Durrell Summers took his benching in stride saying it was "just a better lineup for this game," which is true with Illinois going 7-1, 6-9 and 6-9 to start. But this was also clearly a message to Summers, who I thought definitely delivered some effort on the defensive end.
“I liked his demeanor a little bit better, I didn’t like the one I saw the other day,” Izzo said of Summers. “But he’s gonna keep earning his, he’s gonna become a better team guy. And I liked what I saw in that respect and if that continues, he’ll continue to play. And if it doesn’t, he won’t.”