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Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

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Spartans fall short to No. 10 Illinois in second straight B1G loss

MSU+graduate+guard+Tyson+Walker+finishes+a+layup+to+cut+into+a+late+Illinois+lead+on+Thursday%2C+Jan.+11%2C+2024+at+the+State+Farm+Center
Jack Moreland
MSU graduate guard Tyson Walker finishes a layup to cut into a late Illinois lead on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024 at the State Farm Center

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Michigan State rounded out a two-game road trip with a matchup against No. 10 Illinois on Thursday night. In a game that hung in the balance until its final seconds, MSU fell to the Fighting Illini, 71-68. 

Illinois led for the game’s majority, staving off an MSU team that remained within striking distance but ultimately fell short. The Fighting Illini have only lost one game at home this season. 

“We play that good, we would’ve won three or four more games,” said MSU head coach Tom Izzo. “That doesn’t mean I’m happy with the loss or how we played, I’m just telling you we played a lot better than how we’ve been playing.” 

The Spartans shot a season-low seven free throws in Thursday’s loss. MSU had only two free throw attempts in the first half. 

“We did everything except win the game, and we lost that at the free-throw line,” said Izzo. 

Illinois made 18 of its 22 free throw attempts on the night. 

Although Illinois recorded only four fastbreak points, the Fighting Illini kept MSU from getting out in transition. MSU had two fastbreak points and were restricted offensively in the half-court setting, where they occasionally grew stagnant and made only 26% of their threes. 

“We wanted to move the ball a lot more. We had too much dribbling,” said Izzo. 

Illinois sophomore guard/forward Ty Rogers finishes a tough layup around MSU senior center Mady Sissoko on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024 at the State Farm Center. (Jack Moreland)

Sophomore forward Ty Rodgers had an excellent first half for the Illini, recording 12 points and going a perfect 5-5 from the field. Rodgers finished the game with 15 points in 20 minutes. 

Mady Sissoko was tasked with guarding the 6-foot-6 Rodgers. MSU utilized an unorthodox coverage scheme when guarding Rodgers, playing several feet away from him when he was on the perimeter,  a similar tactic to what Purdue used against Illinois last Friday. 

“When [opposing teams] are sitting back, it creates advantage for our guards,” said Rodgers. “There’s just so many other things that you can do out of it to create advantages not just for myself, but for my teammates.” 

Graduate guard Tyson Walker finished with a game-high 17 points, but battled foul trouble. 

“Tyson got himself into foul trouble and I think he took himself out of the game, and that bothered me a little because we need Tyson,” said Izzo. 

MSU senior guard A.J. Hoggard celebrates after hitting a three-pointer against Illinois on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024 at the State Farm Center. (Jack Moreland)

Senior guard AJ Hoggard finished with 16 points, six rebounds and three assists, while junior guard Jaden Akins and graduate forward Malik Hall finished with 13 and 14 points, respectively. 

For Illinois, five players scored in double figures. Rogers and senior forwards Marcus Domask and Coleman Hawkins all recorded 15 points apiece. Seniors Justin Harmon and Quincy Guerrier both had 10 points. 

One of the deciding factors in the second half was Illinois recording seven points off turnovers in the second half to MSU’s zero, while also making eight of their nine free-throws, in what was an even-keeled battle nearly everywhere else on the statsheet.

“We did what we had to do late, which is get stops and rebounds, and that’s how you win kind of an ugly hard-fought game,” said Illinois head coach Brad Underwood. 

MSU is now 9-7 on the season, and sitting at the bottom of the Big Ten with a 1-4 conference record. 

“We’re gonna get better,” said Izzo. “We’re gonna grow from here, we’re gonna get better. Everybody will give up on us, and that’s fine with me. I don’t even blame them, but I think I know where this team can still get and I plan to get them there.” 

The Spartans return to the Breslin Center on Sunday at noon E.T. to take on Rutgers.

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About the Contributors
A.J. Evans, Sports Editor
A.J. Evans (He/Him/His) is the Sports Editor at Impact 89FM. He is from Southfield, Michigan and is majoring in journalism. He has covered football, women's and men's basketball for the Impact. “Stay far from timid, only make moves when your heart’s in it, and live the phrase sky’s the limit….see you chumps on top.” - Biggie  
Jack Moreland, Sports Photo Editor
Jack (he/him) is a Journalism major focusing in sports reporting and media photography. Growing up in nearby Okemos, Michigan, he has been a lifelong Spartan and is proud to sport the green and white. Jack is a big Baby Keem fan and is known to post on your block with your wishlist on you.

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