Illinois coach Bruce Weber explained that Michigan State dominated the game physically.
"We just got our butts kicked. They played harder than we did, and we didn't take very good shots. We've got to figure out how hard we have to play and how smart we have to play."
The Illini started fast, jumping out to a 24-18 lead midway through the first half. Demetri McCamey scored the first five points of the game, Mike Davis appeared to be overcoming his slump with a couple jumpers, and freshman Tyler Griffey came off the bench for 7 straight points.
Unfortunately, MSU dominated the five minutes on each side of halftime. An Illini coach charts 5 minute wars, and the discrepancy of those ten minutes turned the tide in the Spartans' favor.
"We won all the mini wars except those two. But those two we lost by 20. That was the difference in the game. They took it to us, and we lost our poise. We took some questionable shots trying to get it back on their own."
Michigan State took Mike Tisdale completely out of his game with physical play. Slowed also by early foul trouble, the big Illini center took only one shot in 19 minutes and grabbed one rebound. His only points were on two free throws.
"It doesn't help not to have Tisdale in the game," Weber understates. "It's not the first time he's gotten in foul trouble. You can't get into wrestling matches with people. We've got to keep him in the game."
And Davis reverted midgame to his less confident persona. He ended up making only 4 of 15 shots and grabbing four rebounds, far below his average. He ended with 11 points, but Weber needs all his upperclassmen to show up every game.
"We need consistency from our upperclassmen, that's the big thing. Until you know what you're gonna get every day, it's tough. That's why we are where we are. We had some struggles and didn't deal with it very well."
One bright spot for the Illini was the play of Griffey. He strained a calf muscle in practice Thursday, but he had his best game as an Illini. Playing 15 minutes, Griffey hit 5 of 8 shots for 12 points, and he pulled down 7 rebounds including three on the offensive end.
"He played well. He took advantage of his opportunity. Tisdale was in foul trouble, Dominique (Keller) struggled. He did a nice job. I guess that was the one positive out of the whole thing."
Needing a big shooting game against the defensively strong Spartans, the Illini shot only 34.9%. Fearing Spartan defenders, Illini jump shooters either rushed or fell away on their shots. Besides Davis, freshmen Brandon Paul (3-11) and D.J. Richardson (0-8) shot especially poorly.
"The freshmen played like freshmen in a very tough environment against a very good team," Weber reminded.
McCamey led the Illini with 15 points, but he also had four turnovers to go with 5 assists. Paul finished with 8 points, 5 reboulds and three steals. Keller and Bill Cole added 5 points each.
Kalin Lucas used his speed to lead the Spartans with 20 points. He also contributed 4 assists. Delvon Roe scored 15 despite fouling out. Raymar Morgan pulled down 10 rebounds to go with his 14 points. Korey Lucious contributed 8 points and 4 assists, while Draymond Green had an all-around game with 7 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists.
Illinois is now 12-6 on the year and 4-1 in the Big 10. Things get no easier as a strong Purdue team visits the Assembly Hall Tuesday. Weber ponders whether the Illini have the mental toughness to rise up and compete against the aggressive Boilermakers.
"Now you have another one of the top teams who might play harder than these guys if that's possible. They're more physical, and we're gonna have to deal with it. It's at home, so we'll see if we learned from today."