No. 5 Illinois is fighting for No. 1 in the NCAA tournament.
The state of Michigan is fighting a long shot just to get in.
The Spartans pulled off a surprise Tuesday that could have a significant impact on the fates of both teams. Michigan State opened a 19-point second half and clung to an 81-72 win to stun Illinois into a victory it will likely need to keep its hopes alive in the NCAA tournament.
Spartans keep Illinois on cold shooting night
Junior forward Aaron Henry led Michigan State with 20 points, five rebounds and six assists while four Spartans scored in double figures. The Spartans connected 54.2 percent of their field goals while holding Illinois to 40 percent from shooting from the ground and 29.4 percent from three-point range. Illinois also struggled from the line, making 19 of 34 attempts (55.9 percent).
Like many of the nation’s top programs, Michigan State is in uncharted territory this season and is at grave risk of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1997, Tom Izzo’s second season as head coach. Tuesday’s victory won’t bring the Spartans in. But it will go a long way towards improving your chances.
Spartans have many opportunities to break through
The Spartans have five regular season games left before the Big Ten tournament. One of those games is Thursday at No. 4 Ohio State before they close out the season with back-to-back games against third-ranked Michigan. They will have many opportunities to improve their résumé in what seemed like a lost season last week.
Illinois, meanwhile, is playing for a different set of bets. He’s a lock to get into the tournament, but he remains in a dogfight alongside Big Ten rivals Michigan and Ohio State to join potential seeded Baylor and Gonzaga on the top line of the NCAA tournament. Tuesday’s loss will not help the cause.
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