Illinois led Michigan State by five at intermission, three points less than their halftime lead in East Lansing in January. This time, the Illini were determined to be ahead when it mattered.
"We talked about not letting this one slip away. We felt we owed them something after letting them beat us up at Michigan State," Kevin Turner said Thursday night after he scored 20 points to lead the Illini to a 84-63 win over the 13th-ranked Spartans.
The win tied Illinois (18-7, 10-2 Big Ten) with Michigan State (17-5, 10-2) for first place in the Big Ten.
"At halftime, coach talked about stretching it out to 10, stretching it out to 12, to keep increasing the lead instead of letting them jump back into the game," Turner said.
The Illini listened to their coach, shooting 63 percent from the field in the second half to outscore the Spartans 52-36. Illinois held Michigan State's high scorers to just 11 points while five Illini scored in double figures.
"They played harder than we did. They took the fight to us. They got some loose balls, they took some charges, they outplayed us," said Mateen Cleaves, who had 11 points for the Spartans along with Morris Peterson.
Michigan State never led the entire game and got no closer than the five points it trailed by near the beginning of the second half.
The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak for the Spartans and increased the Illini's streak to seven. Illinois faces Purdue, which is third in the conference with a 9-2 record, on Saturday.
The Illini outscored the Spartans 14-4 in the first six minutes of the game. The Spartans used an 8-0 run to close to 25-21 with 3:55 to play, but the teams traded baskets after that and Illinois took a 32-27 lead into halftime.
Illinois stretched the lead to 49-35 with 14:37 to go. After that, the Spartans got no closer than 13.
Antonio Smith had 10 points for the Spartans and also led the team in rebounds with 12. Arias Davis had 12 points for Illinois, with Matt Heldman adding 11 and Jerrod Gee adding 10. Victor Chukwudebe led the Illini with nine rebounds.
The Illini made 9-of-17 from 3-point range; the Spartans hit only 4-of-18.
For a team expected to finish in the middle of the Big Ten pack, Illinois has come a long way, coach Lon Kruger said.
"This group has made as much progress as a group can make. It speaks well for their unselfishness and the way they play together," he said.
©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed