The Dagger - NCAAB

Jereme Richmond's week started with a statement denying rumors that the former McDonald's All-American would transfer from Illinois.

A day later, Michigan State probably wishes the 6-foot-7 freshman had left.

Richmond and sophomore guard Brandon Paul combined for 34 points in No. 23 Illinois' much-needed 71-62 victory over No. 17 Michigan State on Tuesday night.

Richmond was as efficient as ever, with a career-high 14 points off of 6-of-8 shooting, five rebounds, three assists and only one turnover in 23 minutes.

He scored on a few tough finishes at the bucket and despite his thin frame, brought some muscle to the dance with the Spartans, who are used to being the aggressors.

Illini fans may have been most pleased with Richmond's emotional presence, as he played with some swagger that had only been sparsely seen to this point. Richmond showed off a bit after two strong first half dunks and never backed down from MSU's bigs.

U of I coach Bruce Weber said afterwards that Richmond spoke to Illini legend Deron Williams, who urged him to, well, enjoy it a little.

"(Williams) said, 'I know you're a player. But you can't be a robot on the court,'" Weber said.

Spartans coach Tom Izzo took notice from the opposing sideline, adding: "He's got a little toughness to him. He doesn't seem like a wimp."

The story to start the week with Richmond was a classic example of hearsay spinning out of control.

Big Ten Network analyst Jim Jackson tweeted on Saturday that he heard a rumor about Richmond potentially transferring. Richmond went back home to the far north Chicago suburbs late in the week and missed practice on both Thursday and Friday.

Jackson retracted the comment later in the day, but it was enough to get everyone in a huff.

Richmond was back at practice on Monday and read a statement without fielding questions.

"I dealt with some personal issues last week," he read. "With the help of coach Weber and my family, I have worked through this situation. Unfortunately, my absence led to some false rumors that I want to put to rest. I have been and always will be 100 percent committed to the Illinois basketball program. My coaches and teammates are my family. I am an Illini for life."

Richmond actually transferring would have been pretty shocking, barring a significant off-court reason. He entered Tuesday's action averaging 20.2 minutes a game and committed to Bruce Weber when just a freshman in high school.

The rumors clearly were not a distraction to Illinois, who further muddied up the standings near the top of the league with the win. At 4-2 in conference play, the Illini are now tied with the Spartans in third place, right behind Ohio State (5-0) and Purdue (4-1).

The game was a bit of a perfect storm for Illinois, as it shot 53.2 percent from the floor, allowed 17 offensive rebounds and saw the Spartans shoot just 37.5 percent. Senior guard Demetri McCamey, who has been turnover prone plenty in the past, had 11 assists and only three TOs.

The performance might not be as clean on Saturday, but the added dimension from Richmond will be needed again with the top-ranked Buckeyes in town.

Ryan Greene covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for the Las Vegas Sun.

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