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Everything shaped up for Michigan State basketball to pull off back-to-back big wins on the road. And then things appeared as bleak as possible.
No Kofi Cockburn. No Andre Curbelo. And Ayo Dosunmu watching from the stands as a fan. None of that mattered for Trent Frazier and Illinois, which built a 15-point lead in the second half while confounding the 10th-ranked Spartans on offense from the outside and in the paint.
And somehow, Malik Hall got to the free-throw line with 0.2 seconds left and a chance to send the game into overtime.
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However, the MSU captain missed the first and then accidentally made the second when trying to give his team a tip-in chance, and No. 21 Illinois hung on for a 56-55 win Tuesday night at State Farm Center in Champaign, Illinois.
"We got off to a slow start," senior center Marcus Bingham Jr., who led MSU with 13 points along with six rebounds and four blocks in 19 minutes. "On the road, we can't do those type of things. ... But I feel like throughout the game, we fought back, we fought hard. We just gotta learn from it."
It was the first road loss of the season for the Spartans (15-4, 6-2), who lost their grip on first place in the Big Ten.
That now belongs to the Illini (14-5, 7-2), who played without Cockburn for a second straight game due to a concussion and minus Curbelo due to COVID-19 protocols.
MSU fell behind 42-27 early in the second half after a three-point play by Illinois’ Omar Payne and a 3-pointer from Luke Goode. But the Spartans rallied with a 21-12 run to pull back within six points on Hall’s layup with 5:37 to play.
After a pair of Frazier free throws with 5:33 to go, MSU inched back into the game starting with Joey Hauser’s deep jumper with 3:51 to play. Hall hit a pair of free throws with 1:53 left, then got a floater to roll home as the shot clock expires with 1:02 remaining to cut Illinois’ lead to 56-54.
Freshman Max Christie blocked a Frazier layup attempt to give MSU a chance and allow Tom Izzo to call timeout with 26.7 seconds left. However, Tyson Walker missed a jumper and Illinois rebounded. Hall eventually fouled Frazier with 6.4 ticks to go, but the Illinois senior guard missed his 1-and-1 free throw.
Hall collected the rebound and got the ball to Walker, then took a return pass and drove to the basket. As he did, Illinois’ Coleman Hawkins got whistled for a foul as the horn sounded. Refs put 0.2 back on the clock, but Hall’s first shot rattled out and after another MSU timeout to try and get a tip chance, he reacted in frustration as he made the second to prevent any hope of going to overtime.
The Spartans held the Illini scoreless over the final 5:33 and finished on a 7-0 run, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a brutal turnover-filled opening half.
"It's kind of the same old, same old," Izzo said. "We get off to a poor start, we turned the ball over nine times the first half and two the second half. We've been consistently inconsistent. And every time I think we're taking a step forward, a couple guys take two steps back."
Gabe Brown had 10 points for MSU. Joey Hauser added eight points and seven rebounds, and Walker had nine points and six assists but shot just 3-for-10 from the floor.
MSU shot 34.5% overall and committed nine of its 11 turnovers in the first half. The Spartans went just 3-for-14 from 3-point range but outrebounded Illinois, 41-27.
Frazier led the Illini with 16 points and five assists and Alfonso Plummer scored 11. Those two also combined for five of their team's nine 3-pointers.
MSU hosts Michigan at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Breslin Center in East Lansing (CBS).
"This is a tough loss for us," Brown said. "But we're gonna improve, we're gonna get back better."
The Spartans scored the game’s first five points before turning in their worst half of basketball all season.
MSU struggled to stop Frazier, who scored all 10 of his first-half points in a 2:09 burst. He hit two of Illinois' six 3-pointers in the opening half as part of a 13-2 run that seized the lead.
Meanwhile, the Spartans’ turnover troubles began to mount, including two ugly passes out of bounds by Christie. He and Walker each committed three turnovers as the Illini turned nine MSU giveaways into 15 points; the Spartans forced just two turnovers and didn't score off either.
MSU also failed to take advantage of 7-footer Cockburn being out. Despite the Spartans’ 21-14 rebounding advantage, the Ilini outscored them 14-10 in the paint. MSU went just 8-for-27 from the field, missing five shots in the paint and going 1-for-5 from 3-point range.
"It started off all with our energy," Brown said. "We gotta come out ready to play, we gotta come out with a lot more energy. Because that was the key of the game, to have energy. And we didn't bring that today."
Still, the Spartans managed to overcome a 5:18 scoring drought with a pair of Walker free throws and a turnaround bank shot on the block by Bingham to pull MSU back within 24-18 with 4:14 before halftime.
However, the Illini went on a 7-0 run after that, then turned Christie’s third turnover of the half into a 3-pointer from Jacob Grandison with 42 seconds left that sent the Spartans reeling into the locker room, trailing 34-20.
It was the fewest points in a half this season for MSU, which scored 22 in second half of loss to Baylor. The previous worst first half was 23 in a win over Loyola (Chicago).
"Very disappointing the way we played," Izzo said. "Winning and losing right now, for me, I'm way beyond that. I don't worry about winning and losing as much as how we played. So I'm not real happy with the way we played. And we'll just keep working at it."
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State basketball loses at Illinois, 56-55