Michigan State vs. Illinois score: Spartans blow 20-point lead but hold off Illini to snap three-game skid

Many of the highs and lows of the Michigan State basketball experience in 2019-20 were on display in a chaotic and exhilarating 70-69 win at No. 22 Illinois on Tuesday. The Spartans started off looking great, then gave away a 20-point lead only to have Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman come through with key plays in the clutch. 

Illinois’ dramatic comeback and 69-68 lead with 17 seconds remaining had the State Farm Center rocking, but the noise dropped to silence in a matter of seconds across the game’s final sequence. The Fighting Illini spent their final defensive possession with aggressive off-ball and on-ball pressure on Winston, but all the attention left the weak side of the rim open after his running layup attempt missed and Tillman came flying in for an emphatic put-back dunk to put Sparty on top with 6.6 seconds remaining.

With no timeouts remaining, Illinois pushed the ball up the floor and Ayo Dosunmu, who had been instrumental a 22-4 second half run and huge with hustle plays in the final minutes, slipped and lost the ball. Making matters worse, Dosunmu was injured on the play and needed to be helped off with no ability to put weight on his left leg. 

The building had gone from celebrating Illinois’ win against Michigan State to to watching one of the team’s best players helped off the floor in one of the most heartbreaking losses imaginable. 

Michigan State was able to avoid seeing its three-game losing streak extend to four, with a huge matchup against Maryland coming up this weekend. The Spartans may have fallen from No. 1 to unranked in this week’s AP Top 25 poll, but they’re still in the Big Ten championship race with two games left against the first-place Terps and another date against Penn State. In terms of NCAA Tournament projection, our Jerry Palm has Michigan State as a No. 6 seed in the field in his latest Bracketology.

After a half that could have been a turning point for Illinois’ season, things are looking a little more bleak. The Illini now have their own three-game losing streak going and have fallen from the top of the Big Ten standings to potentially missing out on a top-four seed in the conference tournament. The loss, according to Palm, will drop the Illini to a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament projected bracket, which would be an event on its own as the program’s first appearance since 2013. 

Making matters more concerning will be the status of Dosunmu, who entered the game leading Illinois in scoring with 15.8 ppg. Illini coach Brad Underwood had no update after the game beyond confirming that he’ll go through “protocol” with the team’s doctors. 

While Michigan State hopes to take some good from the win into one of the biggest games of the season against Maryland, the Illini enter an equally challenging stretch with back-to-back road games against Rutgers and Penn State. 

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