Both Illinois and Michigan State were looking to avoid a second straight defeat but in the end, the Fighting Illini came out on top.
Thursday night's matchup between Michigan State and Illinois may have been the most important one in the entire Big Ten due to the stakes. The Illini were looking to stay in the conference title race without Terrence Shannon Jr. while the Spartans were looking to avoid going 1-4 in the league standings.
That didn't work out for the underdogs, as Illinois was able to hold on for the 71-68 victory. There were a number of takeaways from both sides in this game. Here's a look at my three biggest takeaways.
1. Ty Rodgers was the unsung hero for the Illini
After struggling against Purdue, Rodgers bounced back perfectly in the first half, scoring a game-high 12 points on 5/5 shooting. He finished with 15 points total but while the rest of the team (8/27 combined in the first 20 minutes), it was the sophomore who did the work to give them a first-half lead. Even though he's not a shooter, Illinois was able to find a way to have him a part of the offense when they needed him most early on.
2. Lack of bench depth too much to overcome for Michigan State
The Spartans got its usual production from its main core four starters, with each of them scoring 13+ points. Yet none of them shot over 50% from the field, including Tyson Walker with 17 points on 8/17 shooting and AJ Hoggard with 16 on 6/19 shooting. The bench only added four points total, all from freshman Coen Carr. Depth was supposed to be one of Michigan State's strengths but with only four players you can trust to give 5+ points a night, an average night from them is why they scored just 68 points in a defeat.
3. Coleman Hawkins playing at an All-Big Ten level on both ends
While Rodgers starred for Illinois in the first half, both Marcus Domask and Coleman Hawkins shined in the final 20 minutes, finishing with 15 points each. Hawkins, in particular, really played well, grabbing seven rebounds and playing some quality defense, both inside and on the perimeter.
Hawkins can be inconsistent with his production but with Shannon out, the veteran forward has stepped up to be a leading option. If he continues to play like this, he has a chance to finish on an All-Big Ten team and keeping them in conference title contention.