(Sports Network Preview) The Fighting Illini of Illinois hope to keep their postseason hopes alive in beginning a tough two-game road trip Saturday with a visit to the Breslin Center in a Big Ten Conference showdown against the Michigan State Spartans.
Illinois bounced back from a home loss to Purdue by fending off Michigan in the final seconds for a 54-52 victory in Champaign Wednesday. It continued a rocky up-and-down road for the Fighting Illini, who have alternated wins and losses over the last six games. Bill Cole's free throw with 14 seconds remaining provided the two-point margin, as the Wolverines missed two shots on the game's final possession, including Stu Douglass' heave that hit the rim as the buzzer sounded. Demetri McCamey led the way with 18 points and Mike Tisdale scored 12. The Illini shot 44.2 percent from the field, hit just 4- of-18 from three-point range and attempted only nine free throws.
Michigan State fell victim to an Ohio State team coming off its first loss of the season Tuesday, as the No. 2 Buckeyes closed with an 18-10 run to pull away for a 71-61 win in Columbus. MSU was coming off a home win against Penn State, only its second in seven games, and shot 54.7 percent from the field. However, the Spartans got to the free throw line just five times compared to Ohio State (23-of-29). Kalin Lucas led the charge with 14 points and five assists in defeat, while Draymond Green totaled 10 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Michigan State has a chance to even the all-time series with the Illini, who hold a 55-54 edge. The Spartans own a healthy 34-18 advantage in East Lansing and have taken five of the last seven matchups. These two teams met earlier this season in Champaign, where Illinois posted a 71-62 win on January 18.
The Fighting Illini's depth on offense runs deep and a good showing on defense nets a host of close games in the competitive Big Ten. McCamey is the team's top performer at 14.5 points per game and a solid 6.3 assists. His 54 three- pointers also top the roster, dropping at a crisp 47.4-percent efficiency. Mike Davis checks in with an 11.5-point average and a team-leading 6.9 rebounds per contest, while Tisdale posts 9.5 points and 6.6 boards. Illinois gets further contributions from the likes of Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson, whose identical 9.4-point averages help lead to an overall 72.3-point scoring average overall for the Illini. A 46.6 shooting percentage outclasses the competition, as the defense holds teams to 39.6 percent shooting and 64.8 points on average. The Fighting Illini hold a 35.2-33.6 average advantage on the boards.
Barring a remarkable showing in the Big Ten Tournament, coach Tom Izzo's Spartans will be in most unfamiliar territory come late March. A stretch of five losses in six games sank the previously ranked Spartans, who regardless have enough talent to hang with the big boys. Lucas paces the club with a 16.2-point average, while Green stuffs the stat-sheet with averages of 13.3 points and team highs of 8.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Green's 42 steals and 29 blocks also top the roster. Durrell Summers carries a 13.2-point average and leads the team in three-point shooting with 51 on 37.8 percent efficiency in addition to adding 4.3 rebounds per contest. The depth of the team drops off considerably from there, though, a severe issue when foul trouble pops up as it did against OSU. Overall, Michigan State puts up 71.0 points per game on 44.0 percent shooting. The defense allows a 42.9 shooting percentage and 67.8 points per game, while the Spartans post a nice plus-3.8 margin in the rebounding game (37.0-33.2).
Both teams have shown little in the realm of consistency this season, but Illinois possess a wealth of scoring options where MSU relies on the exploits of its top performers. The Spartans have shown a bit more fight at home this season, evidenced by its 10-2 mark, though the Illini are playing for their postseason lives and should come through with a hard-fought desperation win.
GAME NOTES: The Fighting Illini of Illinois hope to keep their postseason hopes alive in beginning a tough two-game road trip Saturday with a visit to the Breslin Center in a Big Ten Conference showdown against the Michigan State Spartans.
FACTS & STATS: Breslin Center (14,759) -- East Lansing, Michigan. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Illinois 12-2, Michigan State 10-2. Away Record: Illinois 3-4, Michigan State 1-7. Neutral Record: Illinois 2-3, Michigan State 3-2. Conference Record: Illinois 7-6, Michigan State 6-7. Series Record: Illinois leads, 55-54.