In the second half, Paul Davis, who was poked in the eye early, keyed the Spartans down the stretch and finished with 16 points, and Shannon Brown finished the game strong, closing the game with key buckets and free throws for the Spartans to secure the victory.
But it was Brown's defense that was the difference in the ball game. MSU's Brown held his former Proviso East teammate Dee Brown, to just five points on two-of-ten shooting.
Said coach Tom Izzo, "Our motto today was 'never relax', [previously] we noticed guys standing around on film, and Spartan basketball is about checking people, and we did that today."
While it was a close game throughout much of the contest, Michigan State (22-10) held the edge for the majority until the Fighting Illini made a strong push down the stretch to close to within one point.
The Spartans led by seven points going into the second half, despite having big man Paul Davis in foul trouble.
Davis had two fouls early in the first half but Tom Izzo didn't allow his senior center to get into any further damage early on in the game and sat him for the remainder of the first half.
Michigan State played one of its most complete games of the season, and part of that was due to the defensive effort they provided against the Illini.
Having played Illinois already twice this season, they knew their primary target was Dee Brown. The Spartans intensity on defense was one of the key factors to their victory. After the prior two games against the Illini Dee Brown scored a career-high 34 points in their first encounter and just last week torched the Spartans for 20 points.
Last night, it was a different story for Dee Brown and the Illini. Brown was held to just five points for the game and shot the ball just 2-10 from the field.
Late in the second half it was Shannon Brown who iced the game from the line hitting key free throws to keep the Illini out of striking distance. Brown had 14 points and was 4-4 from the free-throw line down the stretch.
James Augustine led the Illini with 16 points and 15 rebounds. Augustine was unable to get help from Illini's perimeter offense. In the first half Illinois was 5-9 from behind the arc, but in the second half Illinois only managed to shoot 1-9 from long distance.
Michigan State was happy that their tight man-to-man defense paid off and finally didn't have a team shoot the lights out against them. Tomorrow, the Spartans will square off against #20 Iowa in the semi-finals of the Big Ten Tournament.
Michigan State split games against the Hawkeyes this season. At the Breslin Center the Spartans beat the Hawkeyes by thirty points, but in return Iowa defeated the Spartans at Carver Hawkeye Arena on Valentine's Day by double
Kevin Thomas also contributed to this story