Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas took over the game Saturday, leading the Spartans to a 61-57 victory that created a three-way tie for fourth place.
Slowed while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered during the NCAA Tournament last March, Michigan State senior guard Kalin Lucas showed everyone he's healed.
Lucas, the Big Ten's preseason player of the year, scored 11 consecutive points for the Spartans down the stretch and 15 of his team's final 21 points to lead Michigan State to a 61-57 victory Saturday that created a three-way tie for fourth place in the conference basketball standings.
He dominated the game by controlling the ball and the shot clock. Lucas tallied a game-high 25 points in 39 minutes and was the only player to score in double figures for Michigan State.
"I just kept trying to attack,'' Lucas said. "One thing I was trying to do was create for my teammates, create for myself.
"I feel like every week (the recovery) is getting better and better. I'm still doing a little bit of the rehab to get as strong as possible. We played our kind of basketball, playing tough and playing physical.''
After Illini forward Mike Davis tied the game at 51-51 on a fadeaway with 2 minutes 49 seconds left, Michigan State broke the game open with an 9-0 run. The Illini didn't have enough to keep up with Lucas.
"Lucas just took over,'' Davis said. "He's healthy and feeling good. They kept running the same play. We couldn't stop it. He's a great player. He made big plays and willed them to win.
"We played real hard. We couldn't stop Kalin. It hurts because we keep losing these close games and can't get over the hump.''
In a game where the lead changed hands 14 times and the refs swallowed the whistle to let it become a typical black-and-blue Big Ten bruiser, Michigan State rode Lucas and reminded coach Tom Izzo of bygone days, when Gene Keady and Jud Heathcote roamed the sidelines.
"That was two teams fighting for their lives,'' Izzo said. "Illinois has a little more breathing room (for the NCAA Tournament) than we had.
"It's good to see (Lucas') swagger back. It's good to see the speed back. I told him he had to be an ironman. I couldn't take him out. He was walking around on his knees by the end.''
Illinois fell to 17-10 overall and 7-7 in the Big Ten. The Illini play at No. 2 Ohio State Tuesday (6 p.m., ESPN).
Guard Demetri McCamey had 15 points and five assists to lead the Illini while Davis finished with 14 points, five rebounds and three steals. Brandon Paul scored 12 points off the bench.
"We just weren't very smart on a couple possessions,'' Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "I don't think in the gut check part of the game we played very smart. We had opportunities and fastbreaks and didn't get anything out of it.
"If you win tough games on the road, you've got to make the little plays and be smart to give yourself a chance.''
When ESPN designated this one in the preseason for its College GameDay primetime series, it was expected to be a showdown. Yet these two teams showed more grit than skill while battling for the postseason.
Michigan State (15-11, 7-7) dropped a pair of blowouts earlier this month -- by 20 at lowly Iowa and 26 at Wisconsin -- and had lost six of the last eight games.
The loss by Illinois created a three-way tie for fourth place in the Big Ten with Michigan State and Penn State. The Nittany Lions play at Wisconsin Sunday. Illinois hasn't won back-to-back games since starting the Big Ten season with three wins.
"We battled,'' Weber said. "I asked them to compete, play hard and focus on Michigan State.
"It would be nice to win a couple. When you look on the schedule, it's not going to be very easy. You have to be very special. Somebody is going to have to come up big time to have a chance in Columbus.''
Illinois trailed by seven points with 9:50 left in the first half after going scoreless for 6:32, but the Illini rallied for a 26-25 halftime lead. On the final possession of the half, McCamey penetrated the lane, then dished to Davis for the basket from point blank. The Spartans provided the Illini time to rally, because Michigan State was 3-for-20 over the final 15 minutes of the first half after hitting 5-for-6 to start the game.
Center Mike Tisdale returned to the starting lineup and losing his spot in two of the previous three games. Freshman Jereme Richmond also started. He had 14 points and five rebounds in the 71-62 victory over Michigan State at Assembly Hall on Jan. 18.
Michigan State also juggled the lineup, pulling Draymond Green and Durrell Summers. They quickly entered the game. Forward Delvon Roe started the game despite battling a knee injury suffered last week.Illinois report card Front court -- B Mike Davis was active, but the Illini were bullied by the physical Spartans, who grabbed a 38-30 rebound advantage. Back court -- C Guard Demetri McCamey played well, but he had little help. And the Illini couldn't stop Michigan State's Kalin Lucas. Bench -- C Brandon Paul gave the Illini a spark, yet he was the only real contributor among the reserves. Overall -- C Illinois made it a game, but the Illini couldn't make the plays down the stretch when the going gets tough. After another tough road game at Ohio State Tuesday, Illinois returns home for the first of two remaining home games that they must sweep to remain on the NCAA bubble.