INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Michigan State was still smarting from a lackluster regular season when it came to Indianapolis.
Seniors Paul Davis and Maurice Ager couldn’t forget how Illinois ruined their home finale last Saturday. Or how they fell out of the Big Ten title race earlier than expected.
Davis and Ager each scored 16 points and the Spartans beat the ninth-ranked Illini 61-56 Friday night in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals, exacting some revenge on a team that beat them twice during the regular season.
“I think this would be a great opportunity to win a championship,” Ager said. “During the regular season, we really didn’t get the chance that we wanted, so this is a great opportunity for us to make up for that.”
Sixth-seeded Michigan State (22-10), which lost three of its last four regular-season games, will meet No. 20 Iowa in Saturday’s semifinals. The Hawkeyes beat Minnesota 67-57 on Friday.
Illinois (25-6) failed to reach the semis for the first time in the nine-year history of the tournament.
“We beat them four times in a row, we beat them on Senior Day, how would you feel?” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “We embarrassed them last week on their court. They had all the motivation. Of all the teams I didn’t want to come back and play a week later … and they’re a good team.”
James Augustine finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds to become the first Illinois player with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career. He now has 1,354 points and 1,012 rebounds. The last Big Ten player to achieve the feat was Indiana’s Alan Henderson in 1995.
But that accomplishment was tarnished by an uncharacteristic game from the Illini. Michigan State’s Shannon Brown limited Dee Brown to only five points and two baskets. Illinois shot 40.4 percent from the field and 12-of-21 from the free-throw line.
With the game still in jeopardy in the final minute, Shannon Brown made Illinois look silly when he threw an inbound pass off the back of an Illinois player, caught it and dribbled the length of the court to draw a foul.
“I told Shannon as he was walking out there, maybe it was time for a different Brown to be the hero,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
Still, the Spartans found themselves fighting a tough battle. At one point, Davis, who also finished with eight rebounds, sought medical attention for his nose.
But with Ager driving hard to the basket early and Davis thwarting Illinois’ charges throughout the game, Michigan State had just enough to get past an old nemesis.
Weber was not happy with the effort.
“Every once in a while a team needs a kick in the behind,” he said. “I shouldn’t have to do it in this setting.”
Michigan State extended its halftime lead from 36-29 to 41-31 early in the second half. Then Illinois rallied, using a 12-3 run to get within 44-43.
But Davis answered with a three-point play that ignited a 7-0 run to give Michigan State control.
The Illini again got within one, 55-54, when Rich McBride finished a 7-0 spurt with two free throws with 2:01 left. This time the Spartans answered with Shannon Brown’s 10-foot runner, and he made four straight free throws to seal it.
Brown finished with 14 points and helped give the seniors one more chance at winning that elusive tourney title.
“That’s something we’ve been chasing for four years, and it seems every year one way or another we have a shot at each one,” Davis said. “There’s two left to get, and when we’re done, we don’t want to have any regrets.”