The second-ranked Spartans (29-4) added the conference tournament championship to its regular-season title Sunday, making easy work of overachieving but exhausted Illinois with a 67-50 victory. Seeded last in the tournament after winning just three conference games, Illinois (14-18) upset three Top 25 teams in three days to get to the championship.
The victory was the 18th straight for the Spartans, and gave them the school record for most wins in a season. The 1989-90 squad
the last Spartans to get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament finished 28-6.
As the game ended, Antonio Smith shadowboxed with Sparty the mascot, and the Michigan State players broke out the boxes of championship hats and T-shirts. Then they took turns cutting down the nets at the United Center.
Michigan State has been the best team in the country's toughest conference all season, and it showed why against Illinois. They got 11 points apiece from Morris Peterson and Andre Hutson, and three others finished with nine points.
Mateen Cleaves, the co-Big Ten player of the year, had one of his finest games, with nine points and 10 assists.
And Michigan State's defense, the heart and soul of this blue-collar team, was outstanding as usual. The Spartans held Illinois without a field goal for almost eight minutes in the first half, and after a basket by Cory Bradford, kept it scoreless for more than six minutes.
They also had a 40-24 rebounding edge, including 18-9 on the offensive glass. They forced 16 turnovers and turned them into 28 points.
Of course, Illinois' weary legs might have had something to do with the lopsided game. The Illini had looked sharp in their first three games, but they were huffing and puffing by the first timeout Sunday. Their exhaustion showed at the free throw line, where the Illini went 10-of-20. At one point, they missed four of six.
Bradford led the Illini with 21 points.
Victor Chukwudebe's 7-foot jumper brought Illinois within 18-17 with 9:18 left in the first half, but it was all Michigan State after that.
In a 16-second span, Hutson made a layup, Smith stole the ball and dished it to Cleaves, who took it in for the pull-up jumper and a 35-25 lead with 1:08 left in the half. Jason Klein added a 3-pointer to give the Spartans a 38-25 halftime lead.
Cleaves opened the second half with a 3-pointer and two quick assists to put Michigan State ahead 45-25 lead with 16:31 left. Peterson's basket was the last in the 16-0 run and gave the Spartans a 47-25 lead.
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