Gritty Illini Turn Away Spartans' Upset Bid, 71-68

By IlliniGuys Staff

January 11, 2024

(Cover photo courtesy Joe Clark/IlliniGuys)

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Less than two weeks into the new year and already there are only four teams left in the Big Ten with one loss or fewer in conference play.  Surprisingly, Purdue isn't one of them.

10th ranked Illinois did what they needed to do to remain in that early exclusive club.  Playing for the fourth time without leading scorer and All-American candidate Terrence Shannon Jr., the Illini put five players in double figures and overcame an end-of-game cold stretch to down Michigan State, 71-68 Thursday night at State Farm Center.

It was the 45th anniversary of "The Game" between #1 Michigan State and 4th ranked Illinois, when Eddie Johnson's jumper in the final seconds lifted the Illini 57-55 over the eventual NCAA champion Spartans and star player Earvin "Magic" Johnson.

With the last five games in the series decided by single digits, few expected a runaway in this one.   Illinois (12-3, 3-1) built a 10-point lead in the first half, only to watch Michigan State erase that and take its biggest lead of the game at 46-40 with 14:42 remaining.

That's when Marcus Domask took over.  Similar to his performance in Friday night's loss at Purdue when he scored 16 of his game-high 26 points in the latter stages of the game, Domask scored nine of his team-high tying 15 points down the stretch against the Spartans, who were seeking their second top-10 upset of the season.

The Southern Illinois grad transfer sparked a 24-10 run, capped by his jumper to give Illinois a 64-56 lead with 5:29 left.  But that would be Illinois' final field goal of the game, as they relied on their defense to hold the visitors at bay.  Michigan State managed just four field goals the rest of the way, while Illinois hit 7-of-9 attempts at the free throw line in the closing minutes to continue their hot shooting at the stripe and come away with the victory.

Domask added six rebounds and a game-high five assists.  Coleman Hawkins delivered a monster effort with 15 points, which included a game-best 3-of-5 from the arc, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.   Ty Rodgers added a career-high 15 points, while Quincy Guerrier and Justin Harmon scored 10 points each.

Tyson Walker scored a game-high 17 points for the Spartans (9-7, 1-4).

The win keeps Illinois a game behind Wisconsin (4-0) in the Big Ten standings, tied with Minnesota and Northwestern for second play heading into the weekend.

Illinois now awaits the outcome of Friday's hearing in a federal court in Springfield, as Shannon has filed a request for a temporary restraining order to force Illinois to lift its suspension of him and allow him to play when Maryland visits on Sunday (1pm CT< BTN).

Stay with IlliniGuys.com for complete postgame coverage.

 

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