#13 Spartans Hang on Against Illinois
The #13 Michigan State Spartans held on last night to beat a tough Illinois team 80-75 after trailing by 10 at halftime to move to 18-4 (7-2) on the year. Junior Keith Appling bounced back from a poor performance against Indiana to lead the Spartans on with 24 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Appling scored 6 points in the final two minutes of play to seal the deal for the Green and White. Freshmen Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine each notched 14 points, while sophomore guard Branden Dawson hauled in 9 rebounds for the Spartans.
Michigan State suffered some key injuries in the win, however, losing sophomore guard Travis Trice in the first half, and playing much of the second half without freshman star Gary Harris. Trice has already been diagnosed with one concussion this season, while Harris was reported to have back spasms. There is no word yet on how much time, if any, either player is expected to miss.
The Fighting Illini have been ranked as high as #10 this season, and had knocked off three ranked teams earlier in the year before Thursday night’s matchup at the Breslin Center. Sophomore guard Tracy Abrams led the Illini with 16 points, while Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Brandon Paul added 13 points of his own.
Head coach Tom Izzo benched senior center and team captain Derrick Nix to start the game after Nix missed both a class and private tutoring session this past week. Sophomore forward Alex Gauna started in his place. Nix has had previous disciplinary sanctions, including an arrest for drug possession this summer, but has come back to lead the Spartans as a team captain and emotional leader this season.
Michigan State will take the weekend off before a home matchup with #23 Minnesota next Wednesday, Feb. 6th.