CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — When Illinois beat Michigan State just over two weeks ago, the Spartans missed 11 times at the free throw line, a 7-of-18 performance that Spartan coach Tom Izzo said cost them the game.
Sunday night in Champaign, the Spartans (19-8, 10-4) got even, hitting 17-of-20 from the line on the way to a 60-53 win.
On a rough, physical night, 170-pound guard Travis Trice closed it out, hitting a pair from the line with 39 seconds left to open up a five-point edge that was too much for the Illini (17-10, 7-7)
“We needed this,” said Trice, whose team has now won four straight. “It’s one of those games where the tougher team was going to win.”
A night of bloody lips, sharp elbows and harsh words was fueled, as Izzo put it, by “two teams fighting for their (post season) lives.”
“That was a war,” he said. “I just know it was the most physical game I was a part of for 15 years.”
Illinois coach John Groce was disappointed that on a night when his team shot 28.8 percent and let the Spartans run out to an 11-point lead with under five minutes to play, the Illini still had a chance to win late — if only a shot somewhere had fallen.
The best chance came with 44 seconds left in the game. Illinois had closed the gap to 54-51 and Kendrick Nunn found himself alone with the ball at the top of the 3-point arc. He missed. Trice pulled down the rebound and drew the quick foul, headed to line for the free throws that gave the Spartans room to breathe.
“That last one (Nunn) took, I’d take that one about, oh, every time,” Groce said. “He was wide open, he just missed that one.”
Trice scored 18 points off the bench after starting ice cold.
In his first nine minutes on the floor, he was 0 of 6 shooting, including 0 of 3 from 3-point range. He didn’t have a rebound, an assist, a steal or much of anything else. The rest of the way he was 4 of 7 from the field but, more importantly, went to the line 12 times and hit 10 free throws. He also had five rebounds and four assists.
“Travis was the best he’s been,” Izzo said.
Denzel Valentine led Michigan State’s scorers with 20 points and had nine rebounds. Branden Dawson added 13 points and seven boards.
Malcolm Hill led Illinois with 17 points and Rayvonte Rice added 15. The Illini have lost two straight.
Nunn, meanwhile, finished with a quiet seven points on 2-of-11 shooting. That included 0 of 6 from 3-point range. He had been averaging 14.3 points in Big Ten play.
The game emotionally charged from the opening moments. The teams traded shoves and barbs and Valentine came away from one possession with a bloody lip.
Center Matt Costello fouled out with 1:20 to play, leaving the court with a smirk and a shrug.
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