Seniors Keep NCAA Hopes Alive With Win Over Spartans

Illini Malcolm Hill dribbles past a double team of Alvin Ellis III & Miles Bridges (22)

Illini Malcolm Hill dribbles past a double team of Alvin Ellis III & Miles Bridges (22) in Wednesday's 73-70 win over Michigan State.

Rob McColley/Illinois Public Media

The Illini men beat MIchigan State 73-70 last night in Champaign. It was the fourth consecutive win for Illinois, which now finds itself in the NCAA Tournament conversation, despite a 4-9 start in Big Ten play.

Senior Malcolm Hill kissed the State Farm Center floor while tears streamed down his face, just moments after he'd been knocked to the ground on the game's final play.

Hill led all scorers with 22 points. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo sang Hill's praises after the game.

"I love Malcolm Hill. He's one of my favorite players," Izzo said. "I think he does it with class. He doesn't talk a bunch of stuff. He just plays."

Illinois led by as many as 11 points in the second half and survived numerous spurts by the Spartans. Hill said Illini coach John Groce prepared the team to withstand a comeback.

"Coach kept telling us, 'they're not going to quit,'" Hill said. "They're going to make their runs, we're going to make our runs. We just had to stay composed."

Sixth-year grad-student Tracy Abrams, who finally played his last home game, said Groce has maintained an even keel throughout the up-and-down season.

"He's been the same person the whole year," Abrams said. "We've been really composed, I think, and he's done a great job of keeping us on task."

Groce agreed with the Abrams assessment, saying he's kept the same daily routine even as local and national media speculated about his future at Illinois.

"I try to be the same all the time," Groce said. "We bring it every day. We fight for what we want every day. We continue to keep getting better."

Abrams connected on 2-of-4 shots from the arc for six points. He also dished 4 assists with no turnovers, a feat matched by Hill.

Maverick Morgan (22) scores for Illinois against Michigan State's Nick Ward (44) in Tuesday's 73-70 win over the Spartans.

Photo Credit: Rob McColley/Illinois Public Media

Maverick Morgan and Leron Black scored 15 and 14 points respectively, and they each grabbed seven rebounds to lead the Illini.

Miles Bridges led the Spartans with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Alvin Ellis III added 15 for MSU on 6-of-10 shooting.

Michigan State dropped to 10-7 in conference and 18-12 overall.

Illinois travels to last-place Rutgers Saturday. A win there would give the Illini a 9-9 conference record, and a 19-12 overall record heading into next week's Big Ten Tournament in Washington, D.C.

Story source: WILL