CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The Illinois basketball program may have experienced a double whammy loss Tuesday night.
Michigan State walked off the court surviving a 70-69 win at No. 22 Illinois. Illini guard Ayo Dosunmu didn’t walk off the court at all.
Following the go-ahead offensive putback by Xavier Tillman to give MSU its final lead, Dosunmu slipped on his final drive and immediately grabbed at his left knee. The sophomore guard lost the ball and, after the final buzzer, had to be helped off the playing floor by members of the Illinois training staff.
"Xavier got so sick of missing layups that he decided to dunk one finally," Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. "I'm proud of our guys that we fought the whole time...considering our best player had an average game."
Details on the injury are obviously unknown at the time but the combination of the loss and the look of its star guard on the ground in pain removed all the energy from an emotional sold-out crowd.
"I don't know any more than you saw where he slipped and he'll go through the proper protocol with our doctors," Underwood said about Dosunmu's injury in the post-game radio interview. "He's back in the locker room with his family now."
For everybody who thought the first half exhibition of ineptitude by Illinois in its loss two months ago against Miami (Fla.) couldn’t be topped, the guys wearing orange on Tuesday night begged to differ.
Illinois, fresh off a pair of consecutive losses to Iowa and Maryland, were outshot, outhustled possibly outcoached and outclassed in every way through 20 minutes of play leading to the loss.
Illinois found itself down by over 20 points in an 81-79 loss to Miami on Dec. 2 and a similar first-half effort Tuesday against the Spartans proved once again too much to overcome.
"I have yet to figure out why we can't play hard," Underwood said. "I literally asked the coaches (before the game) 'are we ready?' It was like a somber funeral (in pre-game warmups)."
Michigan State, which saw a three-game losing streak result in it go from preseason No. 1 to unranked in the Associated Press poll, shot 50 percent from the field and from 3-point range in the first half while playing its traditionally successful collapsing defense.
Illinois, which came into Tuesday night’s contest near the bottom of the Big Ten Conference in scoring in league play, suffered through a first-half effort where three of its stars of Dosunmu, Trent Frazier and Giorgi Bezhanishvili combined to go 2 of 17 from the field and 0 for 7 from 3-point range. Bezhanishvili, who has struggled all season to adjust to his new power forward position, was benched after the final under-four media timeout and did not start the second half for the Illini.
In the first eight minutes of the game, Illinois (16-8, 8-5 in Big Ten) had as many turnovers as converted field goals (six) and Michigan State had held the previously mentioned Illini trio of star players completely off the scoring column.
Michigan State (17-8, 9-5) got back in the conversation for one of the top four spots of the Big Ten Conference thanks to a 21-point effort from freshman Rocket Watts. Watts, a Detroit native through Spire Academy in Ohio, was the best player on the floor throughout large stretches of Tuesday night’s contest despite coming to Champaign with only four previous games of double-figure scoring efforts.
The Spartans, who found themselves unranked this week for the first time since the end of the 2016-17 season, accomplished this dominating performance without needing the services of its preseason first-team All-America selection point guard.
Cassius Winston, who had 17 combined turnovers in his last two trips to Champaign, had another poor night in State Farm Center as he struggled with foul trouble throughout his 25-minute effort.
“That’s probably the least amount of minutes he’s played in four years,” Izzo said. “It was big we found other pieces. My wife will probably say tonight ‘what happened in the second half?’ and what happened was Illinois is pretty good.”
Without Winston at his top form, Michigan State relied on 30 combined points from the frontcourt duo of Aaron Henry and Tillman. Tillman, who is the only Division I player averaging at least 13 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots this season, recorded his 10th double-double of the 2019-20 campaign. Michigan State is now 17-0 when leading at half.
Illinois will now take its three-game losing streak on the road try to end Rutgers’ undefeated streak at home Saturday and then they face a surging No. 13 Penn State one week from tonight.