Tom Izzo on playing at Illinois: 'They'll all be out there with their orange faces and it will be wild. But I think we'll play a little wild ourselves.' (Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)
East Lansing — Less than two weeks ago, Illinois was ranked for the first time all season and fresh off winning its first two Big Ten games.
It seemed the Illini were priming themselves for a solid run.
Now, however, Illinois will try to avoid a four-game losing streak with No. 4 Michigan State visiting the State Farm Center tonight.
“Oh, yeah,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “It will be Fourth of July and Christmas. They’ll all be out there with their orange faces and it will be wild. But I think we’ll play a little wild ourselves.”
Michigan State hasn’t exactly had the greatest success at Illinois. It has lost the last three trips to Champaign, with its last victory coming in 2009.
This year’s Michigan State team could change that trend. It is 8-0 away from home and 4-0 in games played on an opponents’ home court. It’s the first time the Spartans have won their first eight games away from East Lansing.
They know, however, the Illini will be looking to end their own skid.
“I don’t think they want to lose four games in a row so they’re gonna give it their all,” Spartans sophomore guard Gary Harris said. “It will definitely be a fight. They don’t want to lose on their home court and it’s up to us to come in and play hard.”
Getting a team’s best shot is fairly commonplace for Michigan State, especially this season. The Spartans spent three weeks ranked as the No. 1 team in the country and many count them as one of the favorites to win the national championship.
It leads to that wild atmosphere Izzo alluded to.
“I definitely feel like we get everyone’s best shot, no matter who we’re playing,” Spartans senior guard Keith Appling said. “Everyone is coming at us and we definitely have a target on our back. We were once the No. 1 team in the country, so I definitely understand why, but at the same time we have to continue to get better.”
Better than Wednesday’s victory over Northwestern.
The Spartans played their second straight game without senior forward Adreian Payne (sprained right foot) and recorded a 14-point victory, but didn’t look impressive. They gave a decent defensive performance, but shot 2-for-16 from 3-point range.
Payne likely won’t play today, and Harris, who was 0-for-6 from 3-point range against Northwestern, said he will be doing his best to forget his shooting performance.
“You try to just put it out of your mind,” he said. “But you look at it and see what you have to improve on. We were rushing a lot of shots and Northwestern did a great job contesting shots, but you’ve got to move on and hopefully not have another night like that again.”