East Lansing, MI (WKZO) – A sluggish start for the Spartans was the last thing Tom Izzo wanted for his birthday. But 53 points for the No. 13 Spartans on over 85% shooting in the second half made Izzo’s 58th birthday one he’ll never forget, as Michigan State regrouped after halftime to battle back from their largest first half deficit to beat Illinois 80-75.
With Derrick Nix not in the starting lineup after being disciplined for missing class, the Illini were able to take advantage, opening the game with eight straight points. Nix entered the game midway through the opening half, but was ineffective in four first half minutes scoring only two points while picking up two quick fouls and was sent back to the bench for the rest of the half.
Illinois committed only one turnover in the first half, and connected on five 3-pointers to take a 10 point lead at the half, 37-27.
However the Spartans scored 14 straight after the break, and never relinquished the lead from that point on. Illinois did keep the game close for the remainder of the contest, but an alley-oop dunk from Adreian Payne and a spinning layup from Keith Appling on the following possession put the Spartans up 74-68 with 45 seconds left. MSU then converted on six of eight free throws to close out the game, improving their record to 18-4 and 6-2 in the Big Ten.
Appling scored 24 points, had eight rebounds and seven assists to lead the Spartans after the team captain scored only three points and fouling out in MSU’s previous game against Indiana.
The Spartans were without Travis Trice for the entire second half after getting hit in the face. Trice had missed five games earlier in the season after suffering a broken nose in the Spartans season opener against UConn. Gary Harris also missed significant time in the second half, after suffering from back spasms. Harris scored 14 for the Spartans. Denzel Valentine also chipped in 14 off the bench.
Tracy Abrams had 16 points, six assists, five rebounds and four steals for the Illini (15-7, 2-6 Big Ten).