Gary Harris may have been grading himself just a tad bit too rough on the BTN when he said he’s been playing at a C+ level because he gave the Illinois Fighting Illini defense fits tonight while leading the Michigan State Spartans to a 78-62 victory in Champaign. The win ran the Spartans Big Ten record to 6-0 and they looked every bit the #4 team in the nation.
Harris led MSU in scoring as he poured in 23 points on 7-9 shooting from the floor and 7-10 shooting from the charity stripe. He also added 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals for good measure. It’s performances like this that earned him Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year accolades heading in to the season.
Michigan State displayed a knack for racing into transition following a made basket, and it benefited them greatly tonight as it seemed like every time Illinois scored MSU was already back on the other end of the floor forcing the action on offense.
Illinois, on the other hand, was back up to its old tricks. They trailed the rebounding battle at half time 24-10, and finished -12 for the game at 38-26.
Nnanna Egwu’s offensive troubles continued as he once again posted 0 points from the floor on 0-3 shooting. He finished the game with 2 rebounds to show for his efforts.
On the flip side of the coin, his backup, Maverick Morgan, played a fairly sound game this evening although he clearly has a long way to go defensively before he can be considered a serious threat to Egwu’s playing time. Morgan finished the game with 4 points and 3 rebounds, and both of his baskets came via his mid-range game. Illinois may seriously need to consider setting up some plays to exploit Morgan’s mid-range jump shooting ability because he’s proving that it’s no fluke when he makes them.
Another positive development from the post players was that Jon Ekey was much more aggressive in launching shots, and he finished the game with 12 points as he converted 5-10 shots from the floor including a pair of threes. He’s always had a tendency to disappear at times, but tonight was not one of those nights.
The Illini were led in scoring by Tracy Abrams 15 points. It was another solid effort from Abrams.
The Illini’s final double digit performer, Rayvonte Rice, finished the game with 12 points on 5-15 shooting. He’s fallen in love with the 3 and he’s regressed back to his career average in converting them. He was 2-7 from long range tonight. Part of this can be attributed to how well Harris played on Rice defensively, but there were still times that Rice simply settled when he could’ve forced the action towards the hoop.
Illinois will try and snap the 4 game losing streak this Thursday when they travel to Columbus to face the #11 Ohio State Buckeyes in a 6 PM CST start.