EAST LANSING, Mich. (UI Release) – Illinois scored 15 of the game’s final 20 points to pull away for a 61-51 win in front of 5,360 at Michigan State on Thursday, as the Fighting Illini earned their second road win in their last three attempts and their second-straight win at the Breslin Center. Ivory Crawford led the way with 14 points and Jacqui Grant posted a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Illinois held MSU, which entered the game averaging 75.9 points per game, to its lowest point total of the season.
Sarah Hartwell was the third Illini in double figures with 12 points, and Alexis Smith stuffed the stat sheet with nine points, seven rebounds and six assists. Illinois improved to 9-10 overall, 2-4 in the Big Ten, while MSU fell to 12-7, 4-2.
“We said before the game, ‘Anything is possible for those who believe, so let’s believe in ourselves,’” Illinois head coach Matt Bollant said. “We challenged them that in practice, we always fight so hard and battle, but we don’t always do that in games. We did that for the first time in the second half. We got down eight in the second half and we said ‘Let’s embrace this. Put a smile on your face and go make plays.’ And we did. Sarah Hartwell’s three in the corner was really big, then Jacqui stepping up and making a three, then getting to the rim as well.
“For Amber (Moore), it was her last trip to Michigan and I told her before the game, ‘Let’s get this done. We didn’t get it done at Michigan last year or this year, so let’s get this done at Michigan State.’ To see her with tears in her eyes in the locker room and our team so excited for her was really neat. They fought for each other.”
Illinois overcame cold shooting from the floor (34.6 percent) with clutch free throws, making 17-of-23 (73.9 percent) from the line, including 10-of-13 in the game’s final four minutes. MSU made only 8-of-15 (53.3 percent) from the line for the game and only 4-of-9 in the second half.
The Illini also held their own on the boards against one of the top rebounding teams in the Big Ten, as MSU held only a 41-37 rebounding advantage. And Illinois hit 6-of-16 (37.5 percent) three-pointers while holding the normally solid Spartans to 3-of-20 (15 percent) from outside, including 1-of-12 (8.3 percent) in the second half.
“I think Michigan State is as good of a rebounding team as we’ve faced in our league. And for us to make 19 free throws, more than they attempted, we haven’t done that all year. We were aggressive, we got to the foul line and we controlled what we could control tonight.”
With the game tied at 7, MSU scored six of the game’s next eight points as shots wouldn’t fall for the Illini and the Spartans led 13-9. After a media timeout, the Illini switched to their “buzz” defense and forced two quick turnovers, which they converted into a driving layup by Crawford and a three-pointer by Amber Moore to go ahead 14-13. But Crawford was whistled for her second foul at 10:14, sending her to the bench even though she had half of Illinois’ points at that time.
That switch to the “buzz” led to a Spartan scoring drought that lasted 5:29, during which the Illini rattled off a 7-0 run. MSU’s Becca Mills hit a baseline jumper once the Spartans broke Illinois’ fullcourt press then, after a media timeout, Nia Oden drained a trey to push the Illinois lead back to 19-15.
MSU grabbed the lead with a 9-0 spurt that included four turnovers by the Illini and eight Spartan points in the paint to lead 24-19. Jacqui Grant made a spinning floater in the lane to break the scoring drought that lasted 4:17, then Smith beat her defender and laid it in. After an MSU miss, Smith rebounded Grant’s miss and put it in to pull within a point. But Smith’s three-pointer attempt late in the shot clock was blocked, leading to a run-out layup by MSU for the 28-25 lead at halftime.
After a 5-0 burst by MSU to start the second half and expand its lead to its largest of the game at 33-25, the Illini got the next five points to pull within 33-30. The Spartans pushed the lead back to 38-32 but a free throw by Moore and a trey from Crawford cut the margin to two.
With MSU leading 42-38, Sarah Livingston made 1-of-2 from the line and Crawford hit a pair, pulling within one. Spartan forward Aerial Powers hit 1-of-2 from the line but Sarah Hartwell countered with a corner three for a 44-43 lead, Illinois’ first since the 6:37 mark of the first half.
A free throw by Powers tied it at 44 but Moore drained a step-back 17-footer to put the Illini up 46-44. MSU scored after an offensive rebound on the other end but Jacqui Grant fought for an offensive board and drew a fourth foul on Spartan forward Becca Mills, then made both free throws after the under-four-minute media timeout to put Illinois up 48-46.
On the other end, Grant tipped a pass and it bounced off a Spartan, then she drained a three from the left wing to push the lead to 51-46. The Illini defense forced another MSU turnover but after a Spartan timeout, MSU went into a fullcourt press and induced a turnover with 2:20 left.
Grant was called for a foul as MSU grabbed an offensive rebound but a Spartan player entered the lane early on a free-throw attempt, wiping a point off the board and giving the Illini the ball. On the other end, Grant executed a pick-and-roll perfectly with Smith, pulling up for an eight-foot jumper that she drained and drew the foul. Her free throw was no good but Hartwell snared the offensive board and drew a foul, Mills’ fifth, with 1:31 left. Hartwell drained both free throws, pushing the Illinois lead to 53-46.
MSU sharpsphooter Tori Jankoska missed a trey on the other end and Grant snared the board after it was tipped twice, then was fouled. She drained both free throws, making the lead 57-46 with just over a minute left. MSU made a layup but had to foul Amber Moore, who hit 1-of-2 from the line. Grant came up with a loose ball on the rebound and earned the tie-up, with the Illini getting alternate possession. The Illini broke the Spartan press and Moore was fouled, where she made both free throws, pushing the lead to 60-48. Jankoska hit a three late but Hartwell rolled in 1-of-2 free throws for the final 61-51 margin.