Feb. 6, 2001
By JOHN KELLY
Associated Press Writer
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Cory Bradford got tired of being kicked around by Michigan State. On Tuesday night, he kicked back.
After struggling all season to find his shot while playing with a gimpy knee, the preseason conference player of the year scored 22 points in helping No. 7 Illinois beat the fourth-ranked Spartans 77-66 Tuesday night to take over first place in the Big Ten.
Bradford made six 3-pointers and the Illini finished with 10 for their first victory over the Spartans since 1998.
"These guys have been kicking our butts the last couple years," Bradford said. "They've been the team to beat in the Big Ten. We felt it was our time to take over."
Michigan State (18-3, 7-3) is not ready to concede the conference championship even though coach Tom Izzo did concede Illinois (18-5, 8-2) outplayed the Spartans on Tuesday.
"We're going to try to win the next six," Izzo said. "We've been in this position before. I don't think the Big Ten is won in one game. This team has some young players and they have to grow and realize one, two or three mistakes can cost you a game."
Michigan State was 3-for-18 from 3-point range, most of the misses coming during two lengthy runs by the Illini to finish both halves. But Izzo said the Spartans lost because of "complete mental breakdowns" on defense, especially against Bradford.
"We had some defensive lapses and you can't leave him open," Spartans guard Charlie Bell said. "... It takes a lot out of you. He was knocking down every shot he took, even with a hand in his face."
Illinois also got 14 points from Frank Williams and 12 from Brian Cook. Jason Richardson led Michigan State with 19 points and Bell added 14.
Illinois coach Bill Self deemed rebounding a key to the game. The Spartans
lead the nation in that stat. Illinois lost at East Lansing last year mostly
because it got outrebounded 41-16. On Tuesday, Michigan State's advantage on
the boards was just 35-29.
The Spartans could not be as aggressive inside because its big men were in foul trouble most of the second half and Illinois' big men can shoot the 3, Izzo said.
Michigan State had an even harder time dealing with Illinois' depth and versatility because the Spartans played on Sunday and had just one day to prepare, Izzo said.
Midway through the first half, Illinois' pressure defense became a factor. Bradford hit a 3-pointer, the Illinois press forced Michigan State into a turnover in the backcourt and Williams hit another 3.
That started a 22-8 run that ended with another 3-pointer by Lucas Johnson, giving Illinois lead 34-27 with 1:37 left in the first half. Zach Randolph hit two free throws to make it 34-29 at the half.
The second half started much like the first, with Illinois sloppy and Michigan State taking advantage by scoring the first 10 points to regain a 39-34 lead with 17:14 to go.
"We felt good but we knew that wasn't the end of the game," Bell said.
The Illini began driving inside, and Michigan State's Richardson and Andre Hutson each picked up their third fouls.
With Richardson and Hutson on the bench, the Illini began what would be the decisive run. Damir Krupalija made two free throws to give Illinois the lead for good, 51-50 with 9:35 remaining.
Bradford followed with another 3-pointer as the Illini went on a 22-9 run that ended with Illinois ahead 73-59 with less than two minutes left.
The orange-clad Illinois students began gathering along the sidelines before the final buzzer, and stormed the court afterward.
A giddy Bradford, flashing a rare smile, declared the Illini contenders for the national championship. If so, Williams said it will be because of Bradford.
"This will be the starting point where you see a whole new Cory," Williams said.
Before Tuesday, Bradford had not scored more than 20 points in a game yet this season.
"He's drug his leg around a good portion of the games so far and never once complained," Self said. "Tonight, he had a different bounce. He was awesome. He got those 3s against one of the best defensive teams in the country."
Izzo said Bradford should not have been left open as often as he was.
"He reminded more of how he's played the last couple years," Izzo said. "I don't think he's had that kind of game yet this year. We gave him some wide open looks. We made some mistakes and he made us pay."