Illinois took on the Michigan State Spartans in Men’s Basketball on Wednesday with the Spartans looking to take a win, and in the process, a piece of the Big Ten regular season championship. With just a few games left to go, State’s chances at clinching a full championship are pretty good, and on an emotional senior night, they got the job done. Though Illinois gave the Spartans a good fight for the first 20 minutes, Izzo’s team came out in the second half to dominate, and never looked back.
The typical duo for the Illini shined, with Trent Frazier and Leron Black once again lighting up the stat lines. On a poor shooting night for the Illini, Frazier and Black kept fighting and ended with Frazier scoring 14 points in 33 minutes, and Black adding on 20 points in 22 minutes. Black was true to the fashion he’s had all year, continuing to show his scoring ability when matched against taller opposition.
It wasn’t a great shooting night for the Illini, shooting at just a 32.7% clip, against the Spartan’s nearly 47.1%, making nearly half of all attempted shots.
Here’s a few of my takeaways from this game in East Lansing.
This Michigan State team played like a #2 team in the nation in the second half against Illinois.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget just the type of competition this young Illini team faces in the B1G, game in and game out. Miles Bridges is an absolute specimen of athleticism, and tacked in with 19 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists at the end of the game. Combine the attention that Bridges naturally draws, with State’s ability to pass the ball and spread the floor with its height and athleticism, and that makes for the possibility of some deadly offensive productivity.
Joshua Langford, the 6’5” sophomore was once again both a scoring menace, as well as a ball distributing menace. He had no trouble scoring, ending with 16 points and 5 assists in just 27 minutes. This win, and in particular the second half, was a full team effort, which saw Izzo run the gauntlet of his offensive plays, with a ton of success.
The 20-point win required a full team effort for the Spartans, but this Michigan State team isn’t a joke, and will be looking to continue their hot streak to make a title run come next month.
Leron Black continues to show that he has NBA-caliber offensive ability.
Leron Black was Mr. Tennessee and Gatorade Player of the Year in his senior year campaign in high school. He has also grown and developed (amidst hardship in these past few years of Illinois basketball, admittedly) into one of the most consistent scoring big-men the Illini basketball program has had in years. The redshirt junior did it again on Tuesday night as he shot 50% from the field, and was 7-8 from the free throw line.
Being consistently matched up against bigger opposition each game in the Big Ten is often a challenge that squashes guys at the four or five position. That being said, Leron Black continues to prove that height won’t stop him from getting his points for the night. Black, playing without a true five behind him, especially with fellow redshirt junior Michael Finke ruled out of the past few games due to concussion protocol, continues to play well against guys 6’10 or above, and shows that he most certainly has NBA offensive ability. His post moves are excellent in getting him the space to get a shot up, and I’m sure there are NBA scouts out there that wonder about the offensive capabilities of pairing him up with a true 5 to take some of the focus off of him. That being said, his defensive game will definitely need to improve, but it should also be taken into account that Leron has played mostly as a 5, whereas at the next level he most certainly shouldn’t be. He continues to be one of few bright spots for the Illini this season.
– Brad Underwood continues to show the direction he wants the Illinois program to head in.
After “Tum-Tum” Naird Jr. checked out of the game in his senior night at Michigan State, he kissed the hardwood at the Breslin Student Event Center, and stepped off of the home court. There, he was met and congratulated not only by his head coach Tom Izzo, but Illinois coach Brad Underwood, who gave him a handshake and congratulated him on his Michigan State career. Underwood was then thanked by Izzo, in one of the more heartwarming moments of the game last night, in a night that was full of emotion for Spartans fans, players, and coaches, as a special team plays their last home game.
Here’s a tweet by BTN’s Alex Roux:
This kind of action is what, to me, shows what direction Underwood wants this program to go in, one where the team grows *TIRED CLICHÉ WARNING* “leaders of men, as well as leaders of a team.” Underwood has always been hailed as a good guy, and a passionate coach. I like this class act on the court, to show grace even when you’re losing.
That whole cliché-ridden paragraph just made all of my journalism professors lose faith in me.
The Illini move into another tough game with a quick turn-around against Purdue on Thursday, and the Spartans travel to Madison to play Wisconsin on Sunday.
For more takeaways from last night’s game, and more insight on the game, as well as Illinois basketball and football recruiting information, and some overall antics, check out my twitter @ThatNateWGuy, and our Podcast network here on The Sports Guys Blog, including full Illini coverage on “Illini Guys.”