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Illinois basketball’s cold second half leads to 80-75 loss to No. 13 Michigan State

Illinois' BrandPaul (3) shoots over Michigan State's Gary Harris during first half an NCAA college basketball game Thursday Jan. 31

Illinois' Brandon Paul (3) shoots over Michigan State's Gary Harris during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

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Updated: January 31, 2013 10:13PM

EAST LANSING, Mich. — At halftime, Illinois seemed to be sitting pretty, leading sloppy No. 13 Michigan State by 10 points.

But like this Midwestern winter, the Illini once again went from surprising heat to jolting cold.

An aroused Michigan State scored the first 14 points of the second half and went on to an 80-75 victory Thursday.

“I thought the game was won in the first four to five minutes of the second half,’’ Illini coach John Groce said. “They came out and punched us in the mouth, and I didn’t like our response. They were tougher in that stretch.’’

The Spartans (18-4, 7-2 Big Ten) overcame a 37-27 halftime deficit to pick up their 30th victory in their last 31 home games. They also overcame injuries to Gary Harris (back spasm) and Travis Trice (possible concussion) and an academic issue that kept Derrick Nix on the bench for the first six minutes.

“We found a way to win, but give Illinois credit,’’ said MSU coach Tom Izzo. “They fought. Their backs are kind of against the wall. [Groce] has done a great job. They missed some open shots. It happens with shooters, pitchers, quarterbacks. With those kinds of ­positions, it happens. And yet, I thought they competed. They worked harder than us.’’

Despite the compliment, Illinois (15-7, 2-6) remains stuck in the Big Ten mud.

“I thought we did some good things, but this isn’t biddy ball,’’ Groce said. “This is the Big Ten. That’s the message I’m giving them. Our backs are against the wall. You have to fight your way out of it. No one’s going to give you anything.’’

Between Michigan State’s hot shooting (14-for-16, 87 percent), and its endless parade to the free-throw line (23-for-32), it’s a wonder Illinois was able to hang around in the second half. Somehow, the Illini did that. Down by three in the final minute, they were unable to get a stop. That pretty much followed the pattern of the second half.

“We were too comfortable in our mind-set,’’ said Tracy Abrams, who led Illinois with 16 points and six assists. “We need to be stronger mentally.’

Illinois shot a respectable 45 percent (27-for-60), including a 9-for-25 (36 percent) from beyond the arc in MSU’s Breslin Center cauldron. It was the most treys Illinois has made since it had 10 in its Big Ten opener at Purdue.

But a defense that forced nine turnovers in the first half didn’t get the job done in the second half.

“They were the more aggressive team,’’ said D.J. Richardson (14 points). “They got to slapping the floor and we didn’t respond to it. They executed better. We were fouling. We put them on the line and gave them a lot of points.’’

While No. 1 Michigan and No. 3 Indiana, who clash on Saturday, are in the spotlight, don’t be surprised if Izzo’s Spartans are the last Big Ten team standing.

And the way Illinois is playing, don’t be surprised by anything.

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