Michigan State-Purdue: Spartans Complicate Big Ten Race With Loss

Johnny LawrenceCorrespondent IFebruary 19, 2009

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.—Purdue delivered first-place Michigan State its first road loss in conference play on Tuesday, 72-54, and rose to within a game of the Big Ten lead.

The Boilermakers (20-6, 9-4) stifled the league's best offensive team, holding them to a season-worst 33 percent shooting (18-55), including 25 percent from behind the arc (2-8).

After a sluggish first half plagued with turnovers, Purdue led by a narrow margin at halftime, 26-23. But Michigan State (20-5, 10-3) never found its groove, watching the deficit grow to 33-23 just two minutes into the second half. They came no closer than nine points down the stretch in the blowout loss. Committing a season-high 22 turnovers, the Spartans also matched their season low in points.

Possibly the lone bright spot in the game for the Spartans was the return of their second-leading scorer, junior forward Raymar Morgan. He played more than eight minutes for the first time since Jan. 25 at Ohio State. He entered the game at the 15:21 mark and played 18 minutes. Though he struggled to shake off the rust from his lengthy illness, his recovery will benefit MSU in the season's final two weeks.

MSU's two-and-a-half game lead atop the conference has evaporated to just one game.  The defeat at Purdue opened the door for those behind the Spartans, primarily Purdue and Illinois. 

Climbing the ladder after an 0-2 Big Ten start, the Boilermakers have won nine of 11 in conference despite a lower back injury to star forward Robbie Hummel. With Hummel starting to recover, Purdue is playing its best basketball of the season. With five games remaining, the Boilermakers play Indiana, at Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern, and at Michigan State to close out the Big Ten regular season.

Dealt a blow on Wednesday night, Illinois (21-6, 9-5) still remains in the hunt for the conference title despite a disheartening 38-33 loss to Penn State. At this point, it is a long shot the Fighting Illini grab the conference lead, but they can certainly help their case Mar. 1 with a win against Michigan State at home.

Illinois has the toughest remaining schedule of the three. They host Michigan State and Minnesota, and travel to Ohio State and Penn State.

Though Illinois has the most difficult schedule of the three contenders remaining, the Spartans have to squash several quality teams to lock up the title. MSU must play Wisconsin, Iowa, at Illinois, at Indiana, and Purdue. An uninspired game against second-place Purdue cost Michigan State the breathing room atop the Big Ten it once had, but these two shall face each other once more. 

The showdown in East Lansing on the final day of league play may determine this year's Big Ten champion.