for this game

Spartans give Izzo historic birthday present

Jan 31, 2008 - 7:25 AM EAST LANSING, Michigan (Ticker) -- Michigan State gave coach Tom Izzo a historic present for his 53rd birthday, a school record.

Drew Neitzel scored 15 points and Raymar Morgan and Goran Suton each added 10 as the seventh-ranked Spartans got past struggling Illinois, 51-41, on Wednesday in a Big Ten Conference matchup.

The Spartans (19-2, 7-1 Big Ten) are now off to the best 21-game start in school history with the win.

"Anytime you can reach a milestone like this, its pretty amazing when you think about all the great teams that have been in this program," Neitzel said. "We probably don't realize it now but down the road when we look back and say we had the best 21-game start in school history, that's pretty big."

Michigan State had never won 19 of its first 21 games in the 109-year history of the program. The Spartans started the 2000-01 season 18-2 before losing to Illinois, but this time the Fighting Illini just could not muster enough offense.

"I was disappointed the way we played and Illinois deserves some credit for it," Izzo said. "We made some good shots early and I thought they took it to us and I didn't like the way we responded at all in the first half.

"I thought in the second half, defensively, we were better but offensively we were kind of out of it most of the game. We got knocked in the mouth and I didn't think we responded very well. That's really the toughest team we've played and I expected that."

The Spartans, 13-0 at home this season, have won five straight since a 43-36 loss at Iowa on January 12 and improved to 5-1 all-time on Izzo's birthday.

"I think if we would have delivered some of the punch it would have been fitting," Izzo said of the historic start. "I didn't like the way we responded. I guess we played pretty good defensively but the milestone, it will probably mean more to me tomorrow than it does right now."

Illinois (10-12, 2-7) came into the game having lost seven of its past eight games prior to a 70-37 rout of Northwestern on Sunday. The Illini held a 24-20 lead at half but were just 6-of-22 (27 percent) from the field after the break.

"I thought it was a very hard-fought game," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "We kind of hung in there in the beginning, obviously we're not an offensive juggernaut and we struggled scoring early but our defense kept us in there. It was just a good solid defensive effort."

Michigan State came out strong to start the second half and Neitzel scored nine straight points to turn a 26-22 deficit into a 31-26 lead with 14:19 to play.

"They did a good job defensively on us. We really couldn't get into a rhythm and you have to give them credit," Neitzel said. "I had to work for all my points tonight; that's how it always is when you play Illinois. They're a very good defensive team. It was a grind-it-out game. We won it on the defensive end. We didn't shoot the ball great but in the second half we played some pretty good defense."

Suton added 10 rebounds and four assists and Morgan had eight boards for the Spartans, who trail Indiana (6-0) in the Big Ten standings.

Neither team shot very well, Michigan State was 0-for-9 from the arc while Illinois was 4-of-22, but the Spartans did make 19-of-25 free throws and the Illini struggles, shooting 7-of-19 from the line.

"It (the game) was really ugly," Suton said. "It came down to defensive stops and they couldn't hit free throws and we came out with a big "w" and we'll just take one game at a time."

Mike Tisdale and Calvin Brock each scored seven points for the Illini, who were outrebounded, 40-31, and were outscore in the paint, 24-12.