Thursday, December 22, 2011

Spartans wrap up nonconference play with 90-81 win over Lehigh

Almost a week ago, I wrote that MSU often comes out sluggish at Breslin against lesser opponents before pulling away in the second half.

After trailing at halftime, the No. 19 Spartans defeated Lehigh 90-81 to extend the winning streak to 11 games. Make no mistake, the Mountain Hawks are a good team.

It was an interesting start, as Draymond Green benched himself to start the game for showing up late to practice, according to the ESPNU announcers. That was coupled with Derrick Nix coming off an ankle injury. Nix entered the game a few minutes in and played 16 minutes, scoring six points and grabbing two rebounds, so he appears to be OK.

Unlike the Bowling Green game, where the Spartans came out with a lack of effort and were beaten on the boards early, MSU pounded the glass Thursday night. MSU outrebounded Lehigh 26-14 in the first half (with 14 offensive boards), but those offensive rebounds came as a result of shooting 34 percent in the half. There were a lot of ill-advised jump-shots, as Lehigh was fronting the MSU post players quite often.

A technical foul called on Tom Izzo (after a terrible and-one call) gave Lehigh a 38-35 lead at the break. It was the first time MSU trailed at half since Duke. The Mountain Hawks shot 45 percent in the half, including 5-for-10 from three-point range.

But as is usually the case, MSU turned things around in the second half. A 21-6 run helped MSU open a 60-47 lead and MSU didn't look back. A late furry from the Mountain Hawks cut the lead to as close as seven, before MSU's free throws sealed the deal. The Spartans outrebounded Lehigh 50-31, finishing with 23 offensive boards.

Izzo won't be happy with the 81 points for Lehigh, but the Mountain Hawks averaged 79 points and just 12 turnovers coming into game, so they know how to fill it up. Also, 23 of those Lehigh points game from the free-throw line. The Mountain Hawks finished with 14 turnovers, including nine MSU steals.

Free-throw shooting had been becoming an issue for the Spartans, but not Thursday night. MSU went 32-for-39 from the charity stripe, including a 12-for-12 performance from Keith Appling, who finished with 19 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three turnovers. On the other side, Appling checked Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum for most of the night. McCollum averaged 18.8 points coming in and finished with 19, but that was on 6-for-18 shooting. A solid performance on both ends from Appling.

Green finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds, six blocks and three assists. Austin Thornton turned in another solid performance, scoring 11 and grabbing seven rebounds. Branden Dawson had 14 and eight. Every Spartan other than Brandan Kearney who saw the court scored at least three points and had at least two rebounds.

Next up are the resurgent and 12-0 Indiana Hoosiers, who come to Breslin on Dec. 28. I'll be covering that game for Inside the Hall. The Izzone alumni will be there. It should be a good one.

Enjoy the above screencap from the game. Merry Christmas, ya'll.

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