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Michigan State Spartans men's basketball team bolsters NCAA chances with 81--72 upset of No. 5 Ilinois

By LARRY LAGE

AP Sports Writer

EAST LANSING — Michigan State started its long string of NCAA Tournament appearances in the previous century by being the toughest team on the court in most games.

If the Spartans can extend their streak to 23 straight tournaments next month, their win over No. 5 Illinois might prove to be pivotal. Coach Tom Izzo’s program got back to its roots and picked up a quality victory.

Aaron Henry scored 20 points and Joshua Langford had 15 points and a career-high 16 rebounds to lead Michigan State past the Fighting Illini 81-72 on Tuesday night, bolstering its chances of playing in college basketball’s showcase.

The Spartans (12-9, 6-9 Big Ten) played with a sense of urgency from the start, physically going at their opponents at both ends of the court.

“They punched us in the mouth,” said Illinois guard Trent Frazier, who scored 22 points.

The Fighting Illini (16-6, 12-4) had won a Big Ten-best seven straight games, putting them in contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Against a suddenly stingy defense, though, their star players weren’t as productive as usual.

“For the most part, we fought and scrapped and that’s all you can ask of a team,” Izzo said.

Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu, coming off his second triple-double in a 94-63 win over Minnesota, had 17 points on 6-of-18 shooting. The dynamic Dosunmu did have nine rebounds and five assists. Illini center Kofi Cockburn scored 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting.

“They mucked the game up and made it ugly,” coach Brad Underwood said.

Rocket Watts and Joey Hauser each scored 13 points for the Spartans, who were in control for much of the game with balanced offense and aggressive defense.