- Associated Press - Saturday, March 1, 2014

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Illinois is on a roll thanks in large part to its stifling defense.

Fighting Illini coach John Groce, though, is not ready to celebrate.

Tracy Abrams scored 12 points, leading Illinois to a 53-46 win over No. 18 Michigan State on Saturday.

The Fighting Illini (17-12, 6-10 Big Ten) have held four consecutive opponents to fewer than 50 points for the first time since the 1947-48 season, according to STATS LLC.

“That’s hard to do in this league with the great coaches and great teams,” Groce said.

Illinois has three straight victories for the first time since winning four in a row from Dec. 21 to Jan. 4. That successful stretch included a win over then-No. 23 Missouri.

“As soon as you act like you’ve arrived, you’re going to fall pretty quickly,” Groce said.

The Spartans (22-7, 11-5) are falling fast. They’ve lost two straight and six of their last 10 games.

Michigan State was at full strength for the first time in nearly two months, but simply wasn’t good enough to beat a streaking team that seemed more inspired.

“I thought our energy level was at an all-time worst,” coach Tom Izzo said in a voice barely louder than a whisper.

Branden Dawson returned from a broken hand and played for the first time since Jan. 21, when he helped the Spartans beat Indiana to improve to 18-1 overall and 7-0 in conference.

Michigan State’s Gary Harris had 19 points, and didn’t get much help from his teammates.

The Spartans scored a season-low 46 points - five fewer than they had two weeks ago in a nine-point loss to Nebraska. They made 39 percent of their shots and had only one player with more than seven points.

Illinois might’ve had a lot to do with that.

“They defended very well, which they’ve been doing,” Izzo said. “They turned us over a lot and turned those turnovers into touchdowns.”

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