Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thoughts on MSU's 80-65 win vs. Indiana (w/ video)

What a game.

It had everything you'd want in a basketball game: good teams, good players, big runs, high emotion and a great atmosphere (more on that last one later). The final result: An 80-65 win for No. 16 MSU over No. 13 Indiana — a score that was enlarged due to late free throws.

You're not going to see many runs in Big Ten play like you saw tonight. MSU played nearly-flawless basketball for the first 15 minutes of the game, opening up a 34-16 lead. But Matt Roth hit some deep threes for IU, sparking a 25-2 run that stretched into the second half, giving Indiana a 41-36 lead. The Spartans fought back, but some and-1s from the Hoosiers stretched their lead to 54-45 with 11 minutes to play.

That's when MSU went on a 20-0 run, grabbing a 65-54 lead and not looking back. The run was sparked, as always, by the defense. At one point, Indiana held a 28-20 advantage in rebounds. By the end of the game, MSU had won that battle, 33-31. The win marks MSUs 12th in a row, the longest winning streak since 2000-01. It was Indiana's first loss of the season and 17th in a row at Breslin (About half of the Spartans weren't even born the last time IU won at Breslin in 1991!) IU is 1-27 in Big Ten road games under Tom Crean, although I expect that number to drastically change this season.

There were a boatload of strong individual performances, led by Keith Appling, who had a career-high 25 points, along with seven assists, six rebounds, two turnovers and a monster block on Indiana's Victor Oladipo on a breakaway. (I don't know why Oladipo didn't slam it, but it worked out for MSU). In seven December games, Appling now has 37 assists to 12 turnovers. Looks like he's coming into that point guard role just fine.

Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne combined to score 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting, but their strongest play was on the defensive end, where they frustrated IU freshman sensation Cody Zeller into just four points and three rebounds — both season-lows — along with four fouls. Zeller averaged more than 15 points and seven rebounds entering the night. Tom Izzo said Nix has gone home just one day over break because he doesn't want to gain that weight back.

If there's one thing we're learning about the Spartans, it's that they can be very, very good (as evidenced by the start and finish), but the margin for error is very, very small (as evidenced by everything else in between). That's not uncharacteristic of a young team. But they're playing their best basketball as Big Ten play begins, and they're healthy for the most part, although MSU's front court depth will be tested.

As for the atmosphere I mentioned above, the Izzone "alumni" and crowd in general were great. (I use quotes with alumni because the game was open to most any MSU alumni, not just former Izzone members). The regular Izzone has been taking a lot of heat lately, and rightfully so. But to be fair, the students haven't seen a game nearly as exciting as we saw Wednesday night. In the big games, I expect them to kick it up a notch, and so does Draymond Green.

Up next for the Spartans is a New Year's Eve trip to Lincoln to face the Cornhuskers for the first time in Big Ten play. As for other sports, the hockey team has the Great Lakes Invitational on Thursday/Friday and football plays on Monday.

Here are the BTN highlights and here is the best of the always-thrilling Gus Johnson from the night.

(Note: I was at Breslin tonight for the first time this season, covering for the great IU blog, Inside the Hall. For the IU work I did, see a video of Tom Crean here and videos of IU players here. A notebook should be up later. Thanks to Alex for letting me do some work for them.)

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