No. 11 Spartans Clinch Big Ten Title with Win at Illinois
 
 
 
Michigan State's Kalisha Keane (32) shoots over Illinois' Karisma Penn (00).
 
Michigan State's Kalisha Keane (32) shoots over Illinois' Karisma Penn (00).
 
 

Feb. 20, 2011

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Suzy Merchant and Kalisha Keane Press Conference

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Michigan State seniors Kalisha Keane and Brittney Thomas weren't about to let a prime opportunity slip away.

Keane scored 27 points and Thomas added 19 to help the 11th-ranked Spartans beat Illinois 69-56 Sunday and clinch a share of the Big Ten title, their first since 2005.

"I can't describe it in words," Keane said. "We spoke a lot about it in the offseason, how we wanted to bring hardware back to East Lansing for our team and our fans. But we're not done yet. To win it outright for the first time would be great."

The Spartans (24-3, 12-2 Big Ten) have secured the top seed for the Big Ten tournament. They maintained a 1 1/2-game lead ahead of Penn State and can secure the outright title with a victory against Ohio State on Thursday.

"Our seniors were not going to lose, no matter what it took," Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said.

Keane repeatedly scored the Spartans' most important baskets. After Illinois cut a 14-point halftime deficit to six early in the second half, Keane scored on a layup to spark a 9-0 run.

"Anytime you give her a wide-open look, she'll knock it down," Illinois coach Jolette Law said. "A couple times we didn't find out where she was. Once she got in her groove, it was hard to contain her."

When that 15-point lead was reduced to nine, Keane had five points and Thomas four in another flurry that pushed the margin to 16.

"They're eighth-year seniors with all the minutes they've logged in this league," Merchant said. "They're a very veteran group of kids."

Last-place Illinois (7-20, 2-12), without a senior on its roster, dropped its 10th in a row.

Karisma Penn had 33 points and 11 rebounds for the Illini.

Michigan State opened the game with an 11-2 run and never trailed. The Illini weren't able to rattle the Spartans, who improved to 5-2 in Big Ten road games.

"When you look at Keane and Thomas, they're seniors and it means something to them," Law said. "They are playing with a sense of urgency and playing like their life depended on it."

The difference came from the three-point line. Michigan State made 8 of 16, while Illinois missed all 12 attempts.

POST-GAME NOTES

With the win...
- The Spartans clinch at least a share of their third Big Ten regular season championship.
- MSU improves to 24-3 on the season, continuing the best start in program history, and is 12-2 in Big Ten play.
- MSU has won 22 of its last 25 Big Ten regular season games.
- Under Coach Merchant, the Spartans are 70-7 (90.9%) when holding their opponent to 60 points or less.
- The Spartans lead the all-time series with Illinois, 35-26. MSU has won the last four meetings, and 13 of the last 15.
- MSU has won seven of its last eight games at Assembly Hall.

Player Notes:
- Kalisha Keane scored a team-high 27 points, matching her total from MSU's first meeting with Illinois this season. Keane went 10-of-18 from the field, including tying her career high with four 3-pointers (4-of-7).
- It was Keane's ninth 20-point game this season and was the 14th time this season that she has led MSU in scoring.
- Keane moved into ninth place on the MSU career field goal made list with 525.
- Brittney Thomas tied her career high with seven field goals made, en route to 19 points, her second highest total in her career.
- Thomas led MSU in assists for the third straight game and for the eighth time in the last nine games.
- Thomas went 4-of-4 from the free throw line and is 36 of her last 39 (92.3%) over the last 12 games.
- Thomas is now tied for 14th at MSU with 118 games played.
- Cetera Washington led MSU in rebounding for the second straight game and for the eighth time this season.
- Washington tied her career high with three blocks and also added three steals.
- Lykendra Johnson moved into a tie for third on the MSU single-season offensive rebound list with 106.
- Courtney Schiffauer had four rebounds in seven minutes, her most rebounds since Dec. 5 vs. Texas.

Team Notes:
- MSU held a 33-29 edge in rebounding over Illinois. MSU has outrebounded its last 13 opponents and 19 of its last 20.
- The Spartans extended their single-season program record for 3-pointers made with 186. They went 8-of-16, including a 7-of-10 first half.