Illinois point guard Tracy Abrams doesn't have a reputation as a shooter. He made four 3-pointers in his first 21 games with the Illini, so he wasn't the first option with the shot clock winding down late against No. 9 Michigan State on Tuesday.
CHAMPAIGN -- Illinois point guard Tracy Abrams doesn't have a reputation as a shooter.
He made four 3-pointers in his first 21 games with the Illini, so he wasn't the first option with the shot clock winding down late against No. 9 Michigan State on Tuesday.
Michigan State didn't pay him much attention.
"They just backed off him,'' said Illini coach Bruce Weber.
The shot tied the game at 40 with 2 minutes 9 seconds left, and the Illini eventually edged Michigan State 42-41 to give Illinois a second win over a top 10 team and end a three-game losing streak.
Before the Illini (16-6 overall, 5-4 in the Big Ten) hosts Northwestern on Sunday (2 p.m., BTN), the Illini would likely earn another NCAA Tournament bid by just winning their last four conference home games.
Meanwhile, Abrams still has plenty to learn as a college point guard, but he'll shoulder much of the load with the Illini trying to keep senior Sam Maniscalco healthy down the stretch. Maniscalco is fighting a shooting slump. Weber will share the playing time with Abrams and Maniscalco getting between 18 and 24 minutes apiece per game.
"Sammy gives us some stability,'' Weber said. "He's limited on some things. Tracy's been pretty good for us. He's definitely a better defensive player.''
Abrams and seldom-used forward Mike Shaw became the leaders of the six-man freshman class, Weber said. That kind of quality was expected with Abrams, but Shaw has been a nice surprise.
Those six freshmen will share an apartment next school year, Weber said.
Guard Brandon Paul, who led the Illini with 18 points and scored 13 of Illinois' 20 points in the second half, suggested the ball had too much air in it. ESPN analyst Dan Dakich agreed.
He came to the scorer's bench at halftime, bounced the ball once and said it needed air taken out of it. No one seemed to listen.
"I'm not going to make any excuse, but the basketball, when you bounced it, it went all the way to the ceiling,'' Paul said.
OK, so maybe that's not the reason why Illinois shot 32.6 percent and Michigan State was worse. The Spartans hit 24.6 percent.
Remember, they played with a women's basketball here last season for the first handful of minutes before the refs would listen to the players.
The physical game left its share of bruises the following day. When D.J. Richardson tweeted he was headed to the cold tub, Paul sounded like he would race him to the training room.
"I feel like I sparred with Kimbo Slice & Manny Pacquiao,'' Paul tweeted.
Michigan State forward Draymond Green was listed as day to day with a sprained knee after sitting the final 3:50 against Illinois. Spartans trainers were hopeful Green would play against Michigan on Sunday.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.