- Associated Press - Sunday, January 19, 2014

CHAMAPIGN, Ill. (AP) - Coming to Illinois on Saturday, a long list of milestones were on the line for Michigan State.

Best start in team history. A chance for Tom Izzo to move up the ladder of Big Ten coaching wins. And, oh yeah, the top spot in the conference standings to protect.

The Spartans (17-1, 6-0 Big Ten) checked off all those boxes, holding off Illinois in a sometimes frustrating, physical contest, 78-62.

Izzo, who moved past Illinois’ Lou Henson and into the No. 4 spot on the list of all-time Big Ten wins with 215, called the victory a sign of progress.

“We’re getting there,” he said. “We’re gutting things out. We’re better defensively than we were a month ago, we’re better rebounding than we were a month ago.”

No Spartans team before this one started with 17 wins in its first 18 games. The shot at that served as motivation, said Denzel Valentine, who had a game-high 11 rebounds and 15 points.

“We kept saying, ‘Let’s make history,’” he said.

While Michigan State won its 10th straight, Illinois (13-6, 2-4) has now lost four in a row. The frustration was apparent during several loud exchanges between coach John Groce and officials. The last one earned him a technical foul.

But Groce said Michigan State was just better.

“Today’s issue wasn’t fight; today’s issue was we ran into a really, really good basketball team,” he said.

Izzo said he talked with Henson, who was at the State Farm Center, before the game, but downplayed moving into the No. 4 spot. Bob Knight holds the No. 1 spot with 353.

“It’s nice,” Izzo said. “I’m going to call Bob and make sure he realizes there’s no worries. Nobody’s catching him.”

Michigan State owned the boards early against the Illini, outrebounding them 24-10 over the first 20 minutes. The Spartans used that edge to open up a 10-point lead by halftime and held the Illini at arm’s length the rest of the night.

Gary Harris had a game-high 23 points and Keith Appling added 15 for the Spartans. Tracy Abrams led Illinois with 15 points.

Illinois closed to within six at 59-53 with 6:11 in the game on a pair of free throws by Abrams.

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