East Lansing — When Marcus Bingham envisioned how his best games would play out, it always included him scoring plenty of points.
So who could have figured that after the 6-foot-11 forward didn’t score a point in No. 14 Michigan State’s 76-56 win over Illinois at Breslin Center on Thursday night, coach Tom Izzo would be praising the sophomore big man as one of the biggest reasons the Spartans remained unbeaten in Big Ten play?
Probably not many, but it’s tough to argue how important Bingham was. While he didn’t score, Bingham had 12 rebounds and five blocks in just more than 20 minutes, all of which were career highs.
“I feel like I did my job,” said Bingham, who admitted he never envisioned making this sort of impact on a game without scoring. “They just told me to keep doing my job. I didn’t know I had 12 rebounds and five blocks. That’s good.”
Indeed, it was. And considering it came primarily against Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, the 7-foot, 290-pound monster who has been named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week five times and was averaging 16 points and 9.7 rebounds, it was even more impressive.
At 220 pounds soaking wet, Bingham has had a tendency to get pushed around near the basket. He didn’t have any such problem on Thursday as Cockburn scored a season-low five points and was just 2-for-10 shooting.
“I was really impressed with Bingham,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “The job he did on both ends of the court in terms of creating space and rebounding was important. … His length was a factor.”
The key for Bingham moving forward is whether he can find some sort of consistency.
The power forward spot has been a revolving door through the first couple of months of the season as sophomore Thomas Kithier started the first five games before giving way to Bingham while freshman Malik Hall has had some big games off the bench.
But Bingham is a unique talent who can cause trouble around the basket and has a good shooting touch.
“We knew his length can bother people, but he gets tired, that's why he's in and out,” Izzo said. “I was so proud of him. What did he end up playing? Twenty minutes. That's a lot for Marky and other than getting a little tired in the start of that second half, I thought he hung in there pretty good, battled pretty good.
“But Xavier (Tillman), we did some things defensively with Xavier to help Marky. Xavier Tillman, even though Marky deserves it because it was his best game here, Xavier's all-around game was unbelievable, especially considering how he felt, so really proud of him.”
Tillman was proud of his frontcourt mate, comparing his game to former Spartan Kenny Goins, who specialized at filling the stat sheet in every column but points.
“That's a Kenny Goins game,” Tillman said. “Those are the games that Kenny would be the most impactful player on the court defensively and getting stops for us and getting rebounds for us. Then on offense, he'd make a big play by sealing a guy or by making the extra pass or setting a good screen. So (Marcus) played a phenomenal game.”
Tillman had a big night, as well, scoring 19 points, grabbing seven rebounds and handing out a career-high six assists. That he did so while not feeling well made it all the more impressive.
“I was battling it,” Tillman said. “The whole time my stomach was just hurting. … At the beginning of the game I was like, I don't feel good, like I felt like I had to throw up or use the bathroom.”
Izzo, as much as he felt for his junior big man, wasn’t going to take it easy on him, either.
“He comes over and says ‘Can you take me out?’” Izzo said. “I said, ‘No.’ And he said, ‘You know I'm not feeling good. I might throw up on the floor.’ And I said, ‘We got people to clean it, no problem. What are you worried about?’
“We all did laugh in the huddle but I think that's what they are starting to figure out, you got to play through stuff, you got to do stuff and that's what will make a good team a great team and that is what I hope to get.”