Michigan St tops No. 5 Illinois 81-72, bolsters NCAA chances

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Michigan State guard Joshua Langford blocks an attempt by Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State started its long string of NCAA Tournament appearances in the previous century by being the toughest team on the court in most games.

If the Spartans can extend their streak to 23 straight tournaments next month, their win over No. 5 Illinois might prove to be pivotal. Coach Tom Izzo's program got back to its roots and picked up a quality victory.

Aaron Henry scored 20 points and Joshua Langford had 15 points and a career-high 16 rebounds to lead Michigan State past the Fighting Illini 81-72 on Tuesday night, bolstering its chances of playing in college basketball's showcase.

The Spartans (12-9, 6-9 Big Ten) played with a sense of urgency from the start, physically going at their opponents at both ends of the court.

“They punched us in the mouth," said Illinois guard Trent Frazier, who scored 22 points.

The Fighting Illini (16-6, 12-4) had won a Big Ten-best seven straight games, putting them in contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Against a suddenly stingy defense, though, their star players weren't as productive as usual.

“For the most part, we fought and scrapped and that’s all you can ask of a team," Izzo said.