Illini Survive Overtime Thriller Against Spartans
Jan. 26, 2012
East Lansing, Mich. - Junior Adrienne GodBold provided the game-tying rebound with 9.4 seconds remaining in regulation, then the go-ahead basket on the first possession of overtime to help Illinois to a much-needed and earned 71-62 victory over Michigan State in East Lansing.
The effort marked the first Big Ten win for Illinois (7-14, 1-7), who have had a number of heartbreaking defeats in the first half of the conference season. It was also the first victory for the Illini at Michigan State (12-9, 4-4) since 2003.
"We focused on playing hard for 40 minutes or in this case 45 minutes," GodBold said. "Even when they made a run, we didn't drop our heads at all. We stuck together and played total team basketball."
Illinois bolted to its largest halftime lead of the season at 35-21, but had to withstand a 21-2 Michigan State run to start the second half. Each Illini player took turns in leading the team.
"I prepare them in practice that you don't know when you're name is going to be called so you have to be ready." Illinois head coach Jolette Law said.
The Illini shot 51.9 percent in the first half, paced by a 5-for-7 effort from three-point range. Freshman Ivory Crawford had all 12 of her points in the first half, including two makes from beyond the arc. Crawford scored eight points and had an assist in a two-minute span to key a 12-2 run and put Illinois in front 26-13. Amber Moore had eight of her team-high 14 points in the first half, including a pair of three-pointers and Lana Rukavina nailed a three from the corner at the end of the half.
Illinois had just five turnovers in the first half, but four quick ones in the second half as Michigan State quickly erased the 14-point halftime deficit to go in front 42-37. Porsche Poole, who had a game-high 28 points, keyed the rally. The shooting percentages were reversed from the first half. The Illini percentage dipped to 25.9 percent while Michigan State made 51.9 percent of its shots.
With 12 minutes to play in the game and Michigan State up by five points, the Spartans had the momentum, but the Illini didn't wilt in the midst of the hostile crowd of 6,880. Sophomore Kersten Magrum, who missed the last three games with concussion symptoms, returned to play 28 minutes, score eight points and block three shots. Moore found Magrum for lay-in and sophomore Alexis Burke (12 points) scored the next seven points to help the Illini tie the score at 46-46.
After Michigan State retook the lead at 49-46, Godbold hit a three to knot the score with six minutes left. GodBold finished one point away from a double-double with nine points and a team-high 11 rebounds.
In all, the lead changed hands six times in the final 10 minutes and the Illini were able to secure the win thanks to some pressure defense, forcing Michigan State into 23 turnovers, and making free throws down the stretch, something that has been an issue for Illinois in previous close losses.
The Illini made 7 of 8 free throws in the second half and 6 of 8 from the line in overtime. Karisma Penn, who played just 19 minutes because of foul trouble, was especially clutching making both her attempts at the end of regulation and two more to ice the game in overtime. Moore's two free throws with 2:36 left gave Illinois its first lead in 12 minutes at 54-52 and Penn's two charity makes gave the Illini a 56-55 advantage with 1:12 left.
Poole scored the next three points for Michigan State and with 23 seconds left, the Illini had the ball down by two points and needing an answer. GodBold had claimed after scoring 19 points against Penn State that she was just in the right place at the right time. That was certainly the case vs. the Spartans, when she put in a weak side rebound shot with 9.4 seconds left to tie. Full-court pressure was key in Michigan State not getting a good look at the basket in the final seconds.
"I just told myself, `You're going to get this rebound if it comes your way,' and I grabbed it," GodBold said of the game-tying basket. "I was just focused on doing whatever it took for us to win. The rebounding just happened to come."
Law willed confidence in her players prior to the overtime.
"I felt that we could win it," she said. "I told them you have ice water in your veins. You've been here before. Right now you have to close. We always play in four-minute increments; now it's five."
With each of her teammates taking turns making big plays, in overtime it was senior Lydia McCully's turn. The senior scored her only five points in the overtime. After GodBold scored nine seconds into the extra session, McCully converted a driving lay-up and sank a three-pointer with 1:23 remaining to signal the `W' was headed into the Illini's win column.
"Whatever we do, I remind my kids that we have the great name of the Fighting Illini," Law said. "Whatever happens, we're going to fight. In the first half we played really well. In the second half we withstood their run. We stayed composed and confident and didn't get rattled. Everyone had to step up and they did. We held the rope for 45 minutes. It feels good to know that after paying our dues, good things eventually are going to happen."
With three of its next four games against ranked opponents, the Illini have a chance to beat a ranked team for the first time since 2008. That stretch begins Sunday with No. 19 Nebraska coming to the Assembly Hall for a noon start. The "Pack the Hall" promotion means admission is free for all fans. Law sees the MSU win as a threshold to bigger things during the second half of the conference season.
"In looking at their faces (after the game) and seeing the smiles, I can tell that they believe," Law said. "Right now we're moving forward."