The Illini junior shooting guard hit a clutch 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down and the Illini clinging to a 5 point lead with 31 seconds left in the game to seal a 60-50 Illinois win. The undefeated Illini were carried to that point by the play of point guard Dee Brown, who had a career high 34 points on the strength of 7-13 shooting from behind the 3-point arc.
"I get up for every game. I just don't always shoot like this," said Brown, whose previous career high was 27. "Against a program like that, it's (the career scoring high) special, but the win is more important." Brown shot 12-22 overall and added 3 assists. "Dee won the Heisman tonight," commented Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. "Hat's off to Vince Young Brown-it was one of the most incredible performances I've ever seen."
Brown's amazing performance was important on a night where the Illini offense seemed to regress. The Illini made up for the offensive dearth by playing smothering defense, holding MSU to 36% shooting, and 27% from beyond the 3 point arc. "I can't be too critical of our defense," said Coach Izzo. " We needed our guards to come through, and they didn't. I'm disappointed in the way our seniors played." MSU's seniors struggled, with Paul Davis held to 12 points, and Maurice Ager, who was leading MSU in scoring coming into the game with a 22 point/game average, was held to 9 points on 3-8 shooting.
"It was a great defensive effort against a very good team," said Illinois head coach Bruce Weber. "Brian Randle broke Ager's spirit…he took him right out of the game."
The Illini came out hot, jumping out to a 6 point lead after 2 of Brown's three pointers. MSU came back on the strength of an 11-2 run, and took their only lead of the game at 13-10. Illinois responded with a 9-0 run to retake the lead on 3 pointers by McBride, Brown, and the first of Chester Frazier's career, and they would never relinquish the lead again. The Illini added another 11-2 run late in the first half to expand their lead to 10 points, and Dee's 6th 3 pointer of the half at the buzzer gave the Illini a 35-28 halftime lead.
Dee's last three of the game opened the 2nd half. The teams traded baskets, and MSU narrowed the gap to 3 points twice in the econd half, but the Illini were always able to answer, stretching the lead back out to 10 with 4:26 left in the game. MSU closed the gap to 5 with a minute left, but as the shot clock wound down to 3 seconds, Rich McBride found himself alone in the corner and pumped in the backbreaker with :31 left in the game. "I'm never nervous when I shoot, I felt real good. I'm just happy I made it." said McBride, who finished with 8 points on a pair of 3's and a free throw line jumper, also with the shot clock running down. "Brian made a great pass and put it right in my shooting pocket and I was able to get it off before somebody could contest it," said McBride about the game-clinching bucket. "We wanted to foul Randle," said Coach Izzo. "He (McBride) shouldn't have been able to get a shot off against a guy as quick as Ager, but he did."
MSU was saddled with early foul trouble, with Davis, Goron Suton, and Matt Trannon all picking up 2 fouls in the first half. The foul trouble limited what MSU was able to do defensively in the first half. "It hurt to play without Davis for 10 minutes in the first half." "I felt bad for Shannon Brown, who I thought spilt it all. It was an important game to him. We probably should have kept him on Dee more, but it wasn't really Drew Neitzel, it was more the fact that we had Paul out of there, and our young guys didn't step up sometimes."
Illinois Coach Weber also picked up his first technical foul in the first half. "I got a little excited about some traveling calls," said Weber. "I think everyone travels on the other team." When told it was his first technical during his tenure at Illinois, Weber joked "I got one in Sweeden (on the Big Ten trip this summer). I didn't think the guy understood English."
James Augustine had a quiet night, scoring only 7 points and grabbing 9 rebounds. Brian Randle's defensive effort overshadowed his offense, shooting only 1-6 from the field and adding a free throw to account for his 3 points, and he added 5 rebounds. Shaun Pruitt added 5 points and 5 boards.
The 15-0 Illini now travel to Iowa, who lost on the road to Wisconsin tonight. "We got one home game, and now we've got to see if we can do it on the road," said Coach Weber. The turnaround is nearly identical to the Georgetown/Oregon turn from earlier this season. "Hopefully we'll react the same way," said Weber. "Our big guys gotta play better, or we're gonna be in trouble."
Game news and notes:
1) If Dee hadn't gone off, the story of this game would have been the Illini defensive effort. Illinois held MSU to 32 points below their season average in scoring and 14 points below their season shooting percentage.
2) Fresman Jamar Smith played very limited minutes, and only took one shot. "It's a new world. It's intense basketball. It's learning situation" said Coach Weber.
3) The Illini home winning streak is now 30 games, tying Gonzaga for the longest in the nation.
4) Dee's 34 points are the first time an Illini has surpassed the 30 point mark since Deron Williams dropped 31 on Cincinatti, and are th most since Kevin turner scored 35 in 1998.
5) Illinois' 15-0 record ties the 1978-1979 team for 4th best in Illini history.
6) The Illini out-rebounded MSU 31-27.
7) This was the 10th time IL has held a team below 40% shooting.
8) James Augustine had 3 blocks tonight, tying his season high.