The Illinois Fighting Illini lost to the Michigan State Spartans, 75-80, in East Lansing on Thursday night.
The Fighting Illini played well in the first half and entered halftime with a 37-27 lead. They forced Michigan State to turn the ball over nine times and shot the ball well from beyond the arc (made five in the first half).
However, it was the “Keith Appling Show” in the second half.
Appling had to step up big time for the Spartans because of an injury to Gary Harris (back spasms). Appling finished the game with 24 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. He went 7-of-12 from the field and 8-of-12 from the free throw line.
Appling was able to dominate the Illini defense via his dribble penetration. When he would drive to the basket, two things would happen. The Illinois defense would collapse to the ball and allow Appling to hit a cutting teammate for the score or he would finish at the rim all on his own.
This was a bounce back game for Appling because he only scored three points in the loss to Indiana.
Overall, Illinois shot the ball well, but shot a lot better in the first half. In the second half, the Illini missed their first four shots while the Spartans made six.
There were four players to score double-digits for Illinois. Their leading scorer was Tracy Abrams. He finished the game with 16 points, five rebounds, six assists, and four steals. Abrams could have had five steals, but fumbled Michigan State’s last inbounds pass that sent Keith Appling to the charity stripe to ice the game.
One of the biggest problems for Illinois was how often Michigan State got to the foul line. The Spartans were 24-of-34 (70.6%) from the charity stripe.
The other problem for Illinois was that they let Michigan State shoot 80% from the field in the second half. The Illini shot the ball well in the first half, but gave all their momentum to the Spartans in the second half. That is the reason they lost.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for Illinois in their upcoming games.
Their next three games will feature two ranked conference teams (Indiana and Minnesota) and two teams that have already beat the Illini (Wisconsin and Minnesota). Illinois has proven they can play with anyone in the country, but they still need to prove that they can play with anyone in the Big Ten.
The Fighting Illini are now 15-7 overall and 2-6 in the Big Ten.
Their next game will be against the Wisconsin Badgers on February 3rd. The Badgers beat the Illini, 74-51, in their first meeting this year. However, Wisconsin is 2-3 since they beat Illinois. They are 14-7 overall and 5-3 in the Big Ten.
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