Free-throw shooting hurt Michigan State late in its first meeting with Illinois this season. This time around, the Spartan converted a season-high 85 percent of their attempts from the free-throw line – and hit their final six down the stretch – to win 60-53 against Illinois.
The win extended Michigan State’s win streak to four games – a streak that started after losing to Illinois 59-54 on Feb. 7.
For the second time this season, the game came down to the wire between the Spartans and the Fighting Illini. MSU led by 11 with 4:43 to go, but an 8-0 run from Illinois pulled the score to 52-49 after Rayvonte Rice hit a pair of free throws with 1:20 to go.
Denzel Valentin was fouled and stepped up to the line, hitting both free throws to bring the lead back to five. MSU looked like it had the game wrapped up when Tum Tum Nairn pulled down a defensive rebound, but the Spartans turned over the ball as Travis Trice dribbled the ball off a defender’s foot and Illinois’ Malcolm Hill hit a layup to pull it to 54-51.
On the inbound pass, Branden Dawson moved beyond the allowable space and MSU again turned over the ball, but Kendrick Nunn missed a 3 and Michigan State hits four straight free throws to seal the win.
It was a big turnaround for MSU, which hit just 7 of 18 against Illinois in the first meeting. MSU made 17 of 20 on Sunday night.
Travis Trice led the way, hitting 10 of 12 and having 18 points, despite not hitting a 3-pointer.
Valentine went 6 for 6 from the free-throw line, finishing with nine rebounds to go with his game-high 20 points.