More often than not, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has been critical of his team’s play - win or lose. After vastly improving on their shortcomings in their most recent victory, the Spartans seem to have turned a corner since the start of Big Ten play.
Illinois, meanwhile, just seems excited to return home after a pair of tough road losses.
The 23rd-ranked Fighting Illini host No. 18 Michigan State on Tuesday night seeking a 10th straight home victory and a tie with the Spartans in the conference standings.
The Spartans (12-5, 4-1) have struggled with turnovers and poor free throw shooting, which led to a disappointing start that dropped them from the AP poll last week. After winning back-to-back overtime home games, Michigan State is tied for second in the Big Ten with No. 14 Purdue and trails No. 1 Ohio State by one game.
After erasing a nine-point deficit in the final three minutes of regulation in a 64-61 victory over then-No. 20 Wisconsin last Tuesday, Michigan State also needed an extra five minutes Saturday to beat Northwestern 71-67.
Freshman Keith Appling scored a season-high 19 points against the Wildcats, while Kalin Lucas (18) and Draymond Green (16) also scored in double figures as the Spartans committed only five turnovers in the second half and overtime and sank 24 of 28 free throws for the game.
“I don’t have a lot of complaints,” Izzo said. “We went in there wanting to get our rebounding back, and we out rebounded them by 10. We talked about our free-throw shooting, and (we) needed every single one of the 24 we made. Talked about turnovers, and I thought we did a better job.”
They’ll likely need a repeat performance against Illinois, which is 9-0 at Assembly Hall. The Spartans shot 64.3 percent from the foul line and committed 18 turnovers in last season’s 78-73 loss to the Illini in Champaign.
A return home is a welcome relief for Illinois (13-5, 3-2), which fell 57-55 last Tuesday at Penn State before losing 76-66 at Wisconsin on Saturday.
“We had a tough week here on the road, so now we’ve got to regroup and come home and get ready for Michigan state and win home games,” guard Demitri McCamey said. “As long as you win your home games and try to steal some on the road, you’ll be in good shape.”
Illinois leads the Big Ten in 3-point shooting at 42.5 percent, but hit only 30.2 percent in the loss to the Badgers. McCamey scored 23 points, but he went 17 of 21 from the free-throw line and shot only 3 of 13 from the field.
Sophomore guard D.J. Richardson, who is averaging 10.4 points, is 0 for 8 from the field with three points in the past two games combined.
“D.J., really, he’s lost a little confidence,” coach Bruce Weber said. “Struggled, really, on both ends of the court. I think he’s let his offense affect it.”
Illinois has won five of seven at home against Michigan State.
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