No. 7 Michigan St. 73, Illinois 63
Tom Izzo put Kalin Lucas on the bench a couple of minutes into Saturday's game.
The Michigan State coach heard what he wanted from his star player, then liked what he saw.
Lucas shook off a slow start and scored 20 points, leading the seventh-ranked Spartans to a 73-63 victory over Illinois that broke a first-place tie in the Big Ten.
``I had a bad start and the team had a bad start,'' Lucas said. ``We just stuck together, and kept listening to Coach.''
Lucas hasn't always done that this season.
When Izzo didn't like how Lucas was leading the team last month, he held him out of a practice and didn't start him a game.
Lucas' lackluster start Saturday put him next to Izzo after two missed shots led to the defending Big Ten champions trailing by six points.
``When he came over I said, `You're not playing very good,''' Izzo recalled. ``He knew it. That's what makes it easy to coach guys. All they have to say is, `Yeah, I know.' It's when people fight you that it's different. He sat down for a minute and I told him he just had to regroup.
``In some ways, it was one of his best games because he did what great point guards do.''
Lucas bounced back well enough to help Michigan State go from a six-point deficit with 6 minutes left in the first half to a 64-41 lead with 8 minutes to go in the game.
``We had a stretch in there - with Kalin pushing it - that we looked like a good basketball team,'' Izzo said.
The Spartans (15-3, 5-0) are good enough to be alone atop the conference.
``It does beat the hell out of the alternative,'' Izzo said. ``I guess you could say destiny is in our own hands. But unfortunately, there's 13 games left.''
Demetri McCamey scored 15 points for the Fighting Illini (12-6, 4-1) and didn't get much help.
Illinois has four players averaging at least 10 points, but didn't have a second player in double figures until freshman Tyler Griffey made a 3-pointer late in the game. Griffey had 12 points and junior Mike Davis scored in the final seconds to finish with 11.
Mike Tisdale was held to two points - 18 fewer than the junior was averaging in Big Ten play - and missed his only attempt from the field. Freshman D.J. Richardson missed all eight of his shots and finished with two points - nine less than his average.
``Our freshmen struggled, but our upperclassmen struggled,'' Illini coach Bruce Weber said. ``That's a major problem playing against a team like this.
``The one positive was Griffey.''
The Illini, who were ranked as high as No. 20 this season, had their first 4-0 start in the Big Ten since 2005. Next, they host No. 6 Purdue.
``We're playing the best in this stretch in the league to see if we're ready for it - today, we weren't,'' Weber said. ``We go home to play a team that plays just as hard and is probably more physical.''
Lucas' first and only basket in the first half gave Michigan State its first lead 4 1/2 minutes before halftime and Illinois couldn't come back.
The Spartans closed the first half with an 18-5 run - taking a 36-29 lead - and scored the first seven points after halftime.
Illinois pulled within eight, then Lucas was dominant with six straight points and a three-point play that put the Spartans up 54-35.
``It was time to take over,'' Lucas said. ``Coach told me at halftime to keep attacking.''
The Illini cut their deficit to 11 with 2 1/2 minutes left, then Lucas made a layup on the ensuing possession.
``We match up with them talent-wise, but they do all the little things,'' McCamey said. ``A good team like that will step on your neck.''
Michigan State's Delvon Roe fouled out with 15 points while and Raymar Morgan had 14 points and 10 rebounds as a reserve.
Draymond Green provided his usual spark for the Spartans off the bench with all-around play, adding seven points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Like anyone who has seen Green play lately, Weber raved about the sophomore forward.
``He might be the key to the team,'' Weber said. ``He plays with emotion and he understands the game. He's a big difference-maker for him right now.''
Michigan State, which has lost only once since losing Dec. 1 at North Carolina in a rematch of the national championship game, is 11-0 at home.
``There's an intimidation factor here,'' Roe said. ``Teams start to say, `I don't know if we can play with these guys for 40 minutes.'''