Rapid Reaction: MSU 80, Illinois 75

A quick recap of the Illinois-Michigan State game, where the Spartans won 80-75.

Michigan State defeated Illinois 80-75 Thursday, overcoming a 10-point halftime deficit to secure the Spartans perfect record on their home court this season.

The Illini fall to 15-7 overall and are 2-6 in the Big Ten.

It was over when: Spartans guard Keith Appling hit a layup to go up 74-68 with 45 seconds to play. The Illini twice fought to within three points in the final seconds, but Appling sealed the game with free throws.

Player of the game: Appling. The Spartans leader scored a game-high 24 points, converting all five of his field goal attempts in the second half. The junior added eight rebounds and seven assists, providing an all around performance that proved crucial with teammate Gary Harris relegated to the bench due to injury.

Top Illini performer: Tracy Abrams. The sophomore guard finished with 16 points, six assists and five rebounds.

Stat of the game: Second half field goal percentage. The Spartans missed only two shots in the second half. Two shots! Hitting 14-of-16 from the field, Michigan State scored 24 points in the paint to erase the halftime deficit.

Stat of the game 2: Free throws. Michigan State attempted 19 more free throws than the Illini, converting 24-of-34 at the line to gain a sizable advantage. Taking nine less 3-point shots than the Illini, the Spartans focused on getting into the paint, which enhanced the aforementioned field goal percentage and led to trips to the charity stripe.

The takeaway: More than an eight-point underdog on the road, this was a game the Illini weren't supposed to win. Now, that statement doesn't make losing any easier after the fact, not after the Illini led by 10 at halftime and the game was still in question late in the second half. A win would have been a boost to both morale and positive feelings in regard to the NCAA Tournament, but the result was the way it was projected to be. From here, both the path to March Madness and the alternate route of missing the Big Dance is beginning to take shape. The next three games will be difficult, but from there the schedule is more manageable. Playing the way the team did Thursday, at least in the first half defensively speaking, reaching 20 to 22 wins is still a realistic possibility.

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