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13th-ranked Spartans set sights on struggling Illini

8:46 AM, Jan 31, 2013   |    comments
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East Lansing, MI (Sports Network) - The 13th-ranked Michigan State Spartans put their perfect home record on the line once again, as they welcome the Illinois Fighting Illini to the Breslin Center for Thursday's Big Ten Conference showdown.

Illinois surprised quite a few folks to start the season, as coach John Groce's first year at the helm resulted in the team winning its first 12 games. A Dec. 22 loss to Missouri started the Illini on a downward spiral however, as it has dropped six of its last nine to fall to 15-6 overall and 2-5 in conference. More recently, the team has lost four of its last five, a 74-60 home setback to now top-ranked Michigan being the latest.

Michigan State comes in seeking a return to the win column as well, the team having dropped a 75-70 decision at Indiana last Sunday to fall to 17-4 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten. The recent loss put an end to the team's six-game win streak. MSU is 12-0 at home this season, and the team has won 29 of its last 30 games at Breslin Center.

Illinois leads the all-time series with Michigan State by the slimmest of margins, 56-55, using a 42-41 triumph in the most recent encounter (Jan. 31, 2012 in Champaign) to break the tie.

Brandon Paul scored 15 points, D.J. Richardson had 12 and Tracy Abrams chipped in 10 for Illinois, but those performances weren't nearly enough as the Michigan Wolverines disposed of the Fighting Illini last weekend by double digits. Illinois shot just 37.1 percent from the field, missing 20 of its 26 3-point attempts along the way, while the Maize and Blue knocked down 52.5 percent of their total shots, and scored 42 points in the paint. Paul continues to pace the Illini in scoring with his 17.9 ppg, and he is just a fraction away from sharing the team lead in rebounds as he comes up with 4.8 caroms per contest. Richardson (11.8 ppg) and Abrams (11.3 ppg, 3.2 apg) lend support in forming one of the best backcourt trios in the Big Ten. As a team, Illinois averages 72.1 ppg while permitting 66.0 ppg, and the squad is only marginally better than its foes in terms of shooting prowess. It does however, goad the opposition into nearly 15 miscues per tilt, laying claim to a +2.4 turnover margin.

Gary Harris nailed five 3-pointers in netting 21 points, and Adreian Payne hit three treys en route to 18 of his own, but those efforts went for naught as Michigan State fell by five at Indiana last weekend. Branden Dawson added 12 points, and combined with Payne to grab 17 of the team's 32 rebounds, but the Hoosiers made good on 50.9 percent of their field goal attempts, and used a 13-5 edge in points from the foul line while taking advantage of 19 turnovers by the Spartans to earn their 18th win of the season. Keith Appling (13.5 ppg, 4.1 apg) is MSU's leading scorer and primary playmaker, but he tallied a mere three points in just 19 minutes before fouling out. In addition to Appling, the Spartans have two others averaging double figures in the scoring column, as Harris and Dawson net 12.7 and 10.6 ppg, respectively for a team that puts up 69.2 ppg while allowing just 58.6 ppg. Payne (9.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and Derrick Nix (9.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg) are consistent contributors in the frontcourt.

The Sports Network

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