Standing at the free throw line, down by two, with less than one second on the clock, Michigan State's Malik Hall had a chance to force overtime on the road at Illinois.
After the way they played for the first 35 minutes of this game, the Spartans had no business being this close to a crucial road victory over the Fighting Illini, but Michigan State had rallied late to give themselves a chance.
Unfortunately for MSU, Hall missed his first free throw, and then accidentally made his second attempt. Illinois inbounded with 0.2 on the clock and won the game, 56-55.
Under normal circumstances, a one-point loss in a tough road environment in an important Big Ten game would be a heartbreaking result. But as stated above, Michigan State had no business winning this basketball game.
Despite the Fighting Illini missing arguably their two best players, center Kofi Cockburn and point guard Andre Curbelo, Illinois controlled this game for those first 35 minutes. Their lead grew to as large as 15 points, before the Spartans battled their way back with tenacious defense and a handful of timely baskets.
But it wasn't enough for Michigan State to overcome one of their worst offensive games of the season.
Michigan State scored the game's first five points, but the Fighting Illini punched back in a major way. Illinois went on a 17-4 run to take an eight point lead with a little over 11 minutes to play in the first half.
After the Spartans closed the gap to 24-18, Illinois went on a 10-2 run to close the half to take a 34-20 lead into halftime. It was a dreadful first half offensively for Michigan State, who shot 29.6 percent from the floor and turned the ball over nine times in the first 20 minutes. The Illini scored 15 points off MSU giveaways in the half.
Illinois increased its lead to 42-27 in the first four and a half minutes of the second half. The Spartans slowly chipped away to close to within 56-50 with just under four minutes left to play.
Michigan State continued to anchor down on the defensive end of the floor, cutting their deficit to two points and grabbing possession with 27 seconds left in the game. Tyson Walker got a mid-range look with a chance to tie the game, but the shot went long and Illinois secured the rebound
Fighting Illini shooting guard Trent Frazier was fouled with 6.6 seconds left, but missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity at the foul line. The Spartans had one last chance after Hall was fouled going to the rim with less than a second left, but MSU came up one point short.
1. Ice cold shooting night for the Spartans
Michigan State was terrible on offense tonight. The Spartans shot 34.5 percent from the floor and 21.4 percent from the three-point line. After turning the ball over nine times in the first half, Michigan State had just two giveaways in the second half, but Illinois took advantage. Max Christie shot just 1-of-8 from the floor and finished with just two points. Tyson Walker was 3-for-10 shooting and finished with nine points, six assists and three turnovers. AJ Hoggard and Jaden Akins combined to go 0-for-3 and were held scoreless. The key to offensive success this season for the Spartans has been getting contributions from multiple players — that simply didn't happen tonight.
2. Marcus Bingham Jr. returned to form
As bad as Michigan State was tonight, Marcus Bingham Jr. played pretty darn well. The senior center had 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting, and added six rebounds, four blocks and a steal that led to a breakaway dunk for the Spartans. After a three-game stretch in which the big man struggled, it was good to see Bingham Jr. have a strong performance in this one. Maybe that will get him back on track moving forward.
3. Michigan State's rebounding edge goes unrewarded
The Spartans out-rebounded Illinois 41-27 on Tuesday night, and had 12 offensive rebounds against just five for the Illini. Yet, Michigan State wasn't able to take advantage. As mentioned above, Illinois was without starting center Kofi Cockburn, who is one of the best big men in the Big Ten. The Spartans had a real opportunity to come up with a big win tonight, but again, Michigan State did not seize that opportunity.
4. Spartans lose position in Big Ten standings
With this loss, Michigan State is now longer in sole possession of first place in the conference. The Spartans, 6-2 in league play, not trail Illinois by a half game and are tied with Wisconsin for second place. Michigan State will return home on Saturday for a rivalry matchup with Michigan, before hitting the road next week with trips to Maryland and Rutgers. After the Spartans' last Big Ten loss, against Northwestern, they bounced back with a big win over the Badgers. We'll see how MSU is able to respond to this defeat.