Champaign, Ill. — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo didn’t like the way a couple of players rebounded in Saturday’s loss at Indiana.
So when the Spartans headed to Illinois on Tuesday night, the Michigan State coach decided a shakeup in the starting lineup was in order. Enter Xavier Tillman for Nick Ward and Kyle Ahrens for Aaron Henry.
“No quarterback controversy,” Izzo said. “I did not like the way that Nick or Aaron cut out in the last game and that’s an effort-related thing.”
How much at played a role in No. 9 Michigan State’s 79-74 loss — the third straight for the Spartans — is tougher to gauge. Ward, who entered the game having started 77 of 92 career games, was last out of the starting lineup Feb. 20 of last year against Illinois. He played just 19:28 and finished with 11 points and only one rebound.
“Really I was gonna play Nick the same amount of minutes but he struggled some defensively,” Izzo said. “The first half he did a great job and the second half he didn’t do as good of a job.”
However, as Izzo pointed out, the big issue was the way Ward rebounded in the loss to Indiana. He responded on Tuesday with just one rebound, matching the lowest production of his career. Only one other time — against Purdue as a freshman — had Ward pulled down just one rebound.
He didn’t have many answers after the game as to how he could increase his rebounding numbers.
“Rebound the ball,” he said.
MSU coach Tom Izzo talks about the loss to Illinois, the third straight for the Spartans, on Tuesday night. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
And, what can he and the team do to turn things around?
“We just got to get ready for Saturday, I guess,” Ward said.
Ahrens finished with 11 points in his first start since the Purdue game on Jan. 8. With the game tied at 68, he had a 3-pointer blocked and later air-balled another attempt.
“I thought Kyle was getting a little healthier, but we saw a couple big plays,” Izzo said. “Getting that one blocked, he should have just pump-faked it and got fouled. Then he had a great look on air-ball.”
What Izzo will turn to when Michigan State hosts Minnesota on Saturday will be interesting.
“It wasn’t a shuffling I planned to say with,” Izzo said. “I don’t know how long I’ll stay with it. I might replace all five of them because I didn’t like the way we started out. That was concerning.”
Illinois entered the game forcing the most turnovers of any team in the Big Ten. Against Michigan State, the Fighting Illini got the Spartans to give it up 24 times, the seventh time this season an Illinois opponent has turned the ball over 20 or more times.
Michigan State entered the game averaging 13.3 turnovers a game and his now given the ball up 49 times in its last two trips to Champaign.
“Their defense was really good,” Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman said. “They jumped a lot of passes and it’s not like we just dropped the ball out of bounds. They played some really good defense, pressured us. We’ve just got to play better under pressure.”
Cassius Winston finished with a career-high nine turnovers.
“They did a good job forcing us into tough situations,” Winston said. “We did a poor job of staying poised and staying calm.”
A rare one
The 79-74 victory over Michigan State marks Illinois' first win over an AP top-10 opponent since the Illini beat No. 1 Indiana, 74-72, on Feb. 7, 2013.
It was also the Fighting Illini’s first win at home over a ranked opponent since an 84-70 victory over No. 20 Purdue on Jan. 10, 2016.