Spartans Set Shooting Record, Down Illini 87-74
Michigan State converted 68% of its field goal attempts and out-rebounded the Illini men 37-15 en route to an 87-74 win last night in Champaign.
That's the best shooting percentage a visiting team has achieved since the building now known as State Farm Center first opened in 1963.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo was delighted by the accuracy, but perplexed by his team's ball-handling problems.
"A couple of unbelievable things for us," Izzo said after the game. "Most turnovers in a decade, and highest field goal percentage. That doesn't seem to add up."
MSU's 25 turnovers were the most an Illini team has forced in since November of 2005, and a direct consequence of the aggressive defensive system that first-year Illini coach Brad Underwood installed upon his arrival.
The drawback of pressuring ball-handlers is the opportunity for back-cuts, because fewer defenders remain near the basket. Underwood said he'll gladly take the turnover margin.
We may give up a few. It's not what beat us," Underwood said. "We got beat because we gave up 402 offensive rebounds, and got beat on the boards like that. For us to pressure and force 25 turnovers, to give up four or five backdoors, I'm good with."
Spartan Miles Bridges connected on 11 of his 13 attempts from the floor, all seven of his free-throws, and 2-4 three-point attempts. A projected lottery pick in this summer's NBA draft, Bridges finished with a game-high 31 points.
Jaren Jackson Jr. added a double-double for the Spartans, with 21 points and a game-high 11 rebounds on 5-6 shooting, and 11-12 from the free-throw line.
Illini Kipper Nichols scored a career-high 27 points to lead Illinois, including 5-8 from three-point range. But his teammates converted only 3-20 from long distance.
While praising Nichols' performance, Underwood underscored the importance of everyday habits.
"I'm excited for Kipper because, as many of you know, I challenge him every single day," Underwood said. "I told him in the locker room, 'tomorrow's another day at practice, and you have to do that again.'"
Trent Frazier added 13 points for the Illini, and Leron Black scored 12.
Michigan State improves to 18-3 overall, 6-2 in the Big Ten. With its eighth consecutive loss to open conference play, Illinois tied a record for futility that's been in place since the 1906-07 season. They're now 10-11 on the season.
The team returns to action Wednesday at 8 p.m. when the Indiana Hoosiers visit Champaign-Urbana.