It wasn’t their most high-profile victory of the season, but Michigan State certainly earned every inch of their lofty, #4 ranking in the polls on Saturday night. The Spartans, playing without their best frontcourt player in Adreian Payne, went into Champagne and took apart a solid Illinois team by a final score of 78-62.
All-American candidate Gary Harris picked up the slack left by Payne’s absence, and he was, by far, the best player in the arena. Harris finished with 23 points on just 9 shots (making 7 of them), and he added 5 rebounds and 4 assists for good measure. It was a workmanlike effort from the always-solid Harris, but his performance was much-needed for Tom Izzo’s club. In addition to Harris, swingman Denzel Valentine contributed greatly, putting up a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, despite playing on the perimeter for much of the game.
Defensively, “Sparty” was able to hold Illinois to just ?? shooting, despite the fact that they were playing on their own home floor. It was a swarming-style defense at times for Izzo and company, but even when they weren’t generating turnovers (Illinois made 9 of them in addition to their poor shooting), Michigan State was ending possessions by winning the rebounding battle, 38-26. Lastly, the Spartans held leading the Illini’s leading scorer, Rayvonte Rice, to just 5-for-15 from the field, and no member of the home surpassed 15 points against MSU’s defense.
With the win, Tom Izzo’s club improves to 17-1 overall and 6-0 in Big 10 play, and by virtue of their arch-rival knocking off Wisconsin, Michigan State will likely rise in to the top-3 of next week’s rankings. After Saturday’s showing, that is well-deserved.