No. 10 Illinois seeks better effort vs. struggling Michigan

No. 10 Illinois will look to bounce back from a road loss to Michigan State when it hosts Michigan in Champaign, Ill., on Tuesday night.The Spartans finished Saturday's game on a 13-4 run to claim

No. 10 Illinois seeks better effort vs. struggling Michigan

No. 10 Illinois will look to bounce back from a road loss to Michigan State when it hosts Michigan in Champaign, Ill., on Tuesday night.

The Spartans finished Saturday’s game on a 13-4 run to claim an 88-80 victory.

“That was a much, much closer game than the final score indicated,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said.

Underwood felt his team’s demise came earlier, as the Fighting Illini (17-6, 8-4 Big Ten) held a 72-64 lead with 7:38 remaining before Michigan State tied the contest with an 8-0 spurt.

“Felt like we had the game right in hand up eight,” Underwood said. “Justin Harmon (has a) wide-open 3, doesn’t shoot it, drives it, turns it over. That was followed by a couple more turnovers and then some blown defensive assignments on Malik (Hall).

“Give them credit, they executed, we didn’t. We missed some wide-open shots. I felt good about our shots, but we had a little stretch there where we turned the ball over uncharacteristically, and that stretch in a close game was what broke our back.”

Hall, Michigan State’s top inside threat, scored 22 points. He had a pair of three-point plays in the final three minutes.

The Spartans posted their second-highest point total in a conference game this season despite attempting only eight 3-pointers.

“We let him catch it,” Underwood said of how his team handled Hall. “Ninety percent of the game we didn’t let him catch it. We just sat behind him. I mean, they don’t have five men who can shoot. Coleman (Hawkins) is sitting right behind him in the back to cover it up, and we just let him catch it, then we committed fouls on top of it, which were not very smart.”

Illinois still holds second place in the conference standings. The Wolverines (8-16, 3-10) are last, having lost six of their past seven games and 11 of their past 13.

Michigan snapped a five-game losing streak by upsetting Wisconsin 72-68 on Wednesday, then got blown out by Nebraska, 79-59, on Saturday. The Cornhuskers led by 20 at halftime.

“They were ready and came out and set the tone early,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said of the Cornhuskers. “They got cuts to the basket and open shots from 3, and we just did a poor job defensively.

“We didn’t come out with the energy and effort in the beginning of the game like we needed, especially being on the road. We gave Nebraska confidence in seeing the ball go through the basket whether it was on paint touches or some of their open threes.”

The Wolverines had no chance to catch up due to a disjointed offense that shot just 32.3 percent from the field. But Howard still liked the way his team finished the contest.

“I love how we competed from the last five to six minutes in the first half and through the second half,” Howard said. “We could have easily packed it in and said, ‘You know what? You got this one.’ Our team kept fighting, and I respect how we played with pride toward the end.”

Illinois collected an 88-73 road win over the Wolverines on Jan. 18. Hawkins led the way with 21 points, 10 rebounds, six steals and four assists.