4. The Illini just shut down a high-level shooting Michigan State squad
For much of the season, Illinois has had one of the best defenses in the country. We have been shutting teams down from all over the court, but that great defense slipped a bit in the last game.
Against Purdue, the Illini gave up 83 points, and the Boilermakers shot 47.4% from three-point range. This was by far the worst defensive performance of the season. I was also worried that maybe, just maybe, that bad defense would carry over because we are a man down moving forward.
That didn’t end up being the case, though. The Illini defense showed up on Thursday night against a talented Michigan State offense.
The Spartans only scored 68 points and shot well below their season average from the field. Michigan State came into the game shooting 48.4% from the field, and Illinois held them to 42.0%. I think the big eye-popping number was the Spartans’ three-point shooting. They averaged hitting 35.9% from three-point range entering Thursday night, but they only converted 26.3% against Illinois.
In my five big questions article, I mentioned multiple times that I believed Illinois’ length was going to give Michigan State some problems. I believe that came true. I mean, think about it. Every starter for Illinois measures at least 6-foot-6. That is tough to handle, especially if you are a 6-foot-1 guard.
That 6-foot-1 guard I mention is Tyson Walker. The future All-Big Ten player is averaging nearly 40% from three-point range this season, but the Illini held him to just 1-of-7, 14.3%, on Thursday night. Length had a lot to do with that.
Overall, it was a great defensive performance by the Illini. We were suffocating on the perimeter, and our big men held their own in the paint. If we continue this type of defense, Illinois will finish with a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament.