|Surging No. 5 Illinois takes winning streak to Michigan State|
There's still a couple of more weeks remaining in the Big Ten regular season, but No. 5 Illinois already seems to be in tournament mode.
The Fighting Illini carry a seven-game winning streak into their game against Michigan State on Tuesday in East Lansing, Mich., looking to solifidy their NCAA Tournament resume.
Illinois hasn't lost since Jan. 16 and has five games remaining before the conference tournament. The Fighting Illini (16-5, 12-3 Big Ten) trail only No. 3 Michigan in the league standings.
"We've got to be able to close out games right now and come in every game with the mindset of the NCAA Tournament -- win or go home," guard Trent Frazier said. "We're very cautious of paying attention to details. Everyone has laser focus, and everyone is going out there and playing as hard as they can for 40 minutes."
No one is more focused than National Player of the Year candidate Ayo Dosunmu. He notched his second triple-double in four games on Saturday, racking up 19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a 94-63 victory over Minnesota. Dosunmu, who is the first player in school history to have multiple triple-doubles, is averaging 21.0 points, 8.3 assists, and 6.8 rebounds over the past four games.
"I don't know who's any better," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "I know guys have more publicity and more marketing and more this and that, but the numbers don't lie and the productivity doesn't lie and the winning doesn't lie. I have no idea who anybody thinks is any better than him right now."
Underwood's team has won five straight road games in conference play.
Illinois shot 56.1 percent from the field and had four starters in double figures against the Golden Gophers.
"We have so many weapons," Dosunmu said. "When everyone is clicking on all cylinders offensively and defensively, it's very hard for the opposing team to try to defend us."
Michigan State (11-9, 5-9) is trying to climb back into the NCAA Tournament picture and a victory over a top 10 team would help its cause.
The Spartans ended a two-game losing streak with a 78-71 road victory over Indiana on Saturday. Aaron Henry led them with 27 points.
Michigan State knows only a hot streak can erase its conference struggles.
"We're not stupid," coach Tom Izzo said. "We dug ourselves the hole of all holes."
Against the Hoosiers, Michigan State tightened its perimeter defense. Indiana made just four of 19 3-point attempts.
"I'm proud of a team that can go on the road against a team that was red hot, their shooters were red, red hot, they were shooting 60 percent, 55 percent, and 45 percent in their last three games from three. And we did a pretty good job on them," Izzo said. "I'm just proud that nobody gave in."
Izzo was encouraged by Gabe Brown's performance. Brown, who had a bout with COVID-19 last month, scored 14 points off the bench, which included him going 4-for-8 from the 3-point line.
"You can see why we miss Gabe Brown," Izzo said. "This is the first game he looked anything like he was looking earlier."
--Field Level Media