EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Keith Appling
had 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists as No. 9 Michigan State overcame its largest halftime deficit of the season and defeated Illinois 80-75 at Breslin Center on Thursday.
Freshmen Drew Valentine and Gary Harris
added 14 points apiece and Branden Dawson
chipped in 12 points and nine rebounds for the Spartans (18-4 overall, 7-2 Big Ten), who are 12-0 at home this season.
Tracy Abrams' 16 points led Illinois (15-7, 2-6), which has lost five of its last six. Senior guard Brandon Paul
, the Big Ten's third leading scorer at 17.9 points per game, was held to 13 points.
Down 10 at the break, Michigan State came back on the court fired up. Appling had five points and two assists as the Spartans opened the second half with 14 unanswered points to grab a 41-37 lead. The run ended when D.J. Richardson made three free throws with 15:22 left.
Harris' layup with 12:19 remaining pushed Michigan State's lead to eight, 51-43. The Illini stayed within striking distance from that point but never caught up.
Appling's 3-pointer with 4:20 left gave his team a 68-62 lead. A Paul 3-pointer cut Michigan State's edge to 69-67.
Dawson's dunk off an Appling lob with 1:43 remaining made it 72-67. Appling's twirling move in the lane and layup during the final minute then gave the Spartans enough cushion to clinch the victory.
The Illini got an unexpected lift from reserve sophomore guard Myke Henry in the first half while taking a 37-27 halftime lead.
Henry, whose season high was nine points, had eight in eight first-half minutes while making all three of his shot attempts. He converted a 3-pointer and a put-back late in the half to give his club a double-digit lead.
Illinois shot 48.5 percent but its defensive pressure was just as important while building the advantage. The Spartans committed nine turnovers, leading to 12 Illini points, while the visitors made only one.
Spartans senior center Derrick Nix was benched until the 10:38 mark of the first half because he missed an academic appointment, according to a team official. Nix only played four minutes of the half before coming out with two fouls. Alex Gauna started in his place but didn't score in five minutes of action.
NOTES: The last 14 games in the series have been decided by 10 points or less. This was the only regular-season meeting between the schools this season. ... Harris leads all Big Ten freshman in scoring in conference games (13.3 ppg). ... MSU was ranked No. 3 in the Big Ten in defensive field-goal percentage (38.4). ... The Illini are 10-0 when shooting at least 45 percent from the field. ... Illinois entered the game 2-3 against ranked opponents. ... Brandon Paul has scored at least 20 points eight times this season, while the balanced Spartans have only had eight 20-point games from their entire team.
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