CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — One of the benefits of playing a winless team in your conference? Even your mistakes can be overcome.
Even if they are coming in abundance.
That doesn’t mean Tom Izzo and No. 6 Michigan State will be satisfied with their 87-74 victory over Illinois on Monday night. Not with how sloppy the Spartans continue to be.
The Spartans watched a 17-point lead with 3:12 to play crumble to eight with a 9-0 Illinois run in a 2-minute burst, thanks to three of MSU’s season-worst 25 turnovers.
But Jaren Jackson Jr. hit six free throws and Miles Bridges four in the final minute to help the Spartans escape disaster.
Bridges finished with 31 points on 11 of 13 shooting to go with eight rebounds. Jackson had a career-high 21 points to go with 11 rebounds and six blocks.
Kipper Nichols had 27 points, Trent Frazier 13 and Leron Black 12 for Illinois (10-11, 0-8 Big Ten), under new coach Brad Underwood.
There were few categories statistically in which the Spartans did not overpower the Illni.
Shooting? Check – a scorching 68.2 percent clip, making 30 of 44 shots.
Rebounds? Easily, with a dominating 37-15 edge.
Defense? Yep, the Spartans held Illinois to 42.4 percent, blocking nine shots and collecting five steals. Jackson is now one blocked shot away from tying Ken Johnson’s school record of 72.
Bridges made his first seven shots of the game, including two alley-oop dunks.
The Spartans improved to 2-1 in conference road games this season, with a win at Rutgers and a loss at Ohio State. They went 2-7 a year ago, including a 73-70 loss to the Illini here at State Farm Center.
Giving it up
But much like last year’s game, MSU turned the ball over. Over and over. –
The Spartans barely missed in the first half, going 15 of 19 while holding a dominating 17-5 edge on the boards.
However, Illinois’ pressure perimeter defense and the Spartans’ own lackadaisical ball-handling and passing turned into 15 MSU turnovers. And the Illini capitalized, turning them into 14 points in the opening period.
The Spartans coughed the ball up seven in the first 7 minutes, including three by Cassius Winston. Illinois held a 21-20 lead after a Black layup with 9:22 left.
But Bridges hit a 3-pointer and threw down an alley-oop dunk, then added a pair of free throws as the Spartans ripped off a 13-5 run that was capped by a three-point play by Jackson.
The Illini kept it in single digits, but Winston’s 3-pointer with 34 seconds to play sent MSU into the locker room leading, 39-32.
Bridges had 17 points on 6 of 6 shooting, while Jackson and Langford each scored six.
Jackson got hit in the head with 2:36 left in the first half diving for a loose ball after one of MSU’s turnovers, however he returned after halftime.
Winston fouled out after having eight turnovers with his five points and eight assists.
The Spartans (18-3, 6-2) return home to Breslin Center and host Wisconsin on Friday (8 p.m., Fox Sports 1). The Badgers (10-10, 3-4) are at Iowa on Tuesday.
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