You're not going to see Tom Izzo fight back tears too often.
As the final seconds ticked away Wednesday, Izzo was visibly teary-eyed on the bench. With Wednesday's 68-52 win over Minnesota, Izzo picked up his 400th win, becoming to fourth coach in Big Ten history to win 400 games with one school (Bob Knight, Gene Keady, Lou Henson). He said before the game that the number didn't mean much to him, but by the end, it clearly did.
"It's just a number, but I guess it's a milestone so I'll take it," Izzo said to Big Ten Network after the game.
Considering the Gophers are a tall team, getting one field goal out of your starting backcourt would appear to mean bad news. But MSU dominated the Gophers down low with a strength advantage. Draymond Green scored a game-high 22 points with 14 rebounds and six assists and the combination of Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Nix even had a breakaway dunk. It was glorious.
MSU scored 38 points in the paint, to Minnesota's 20, and the Spartans won the battle on the glass 32-25. While MSU shot 54.2 percent (26-for-48) for the game, they only shot 2-for-11 from three, meaning they shot nearly 65 percent (24-for-37) on two-point shots. Minnesota might have had a height advantage, but there wasn't much strength (where's the beef?). Green and Nix really had their way down low, and Nix punished Ralph Sampson III — who has been a matchup nightmare for MSU in the past — on both sides of the court.
The game was never really close — until it got close. A three-pointer at the buzzer from Green gave MSU a 37-27 lead at the half. The Gophers had only stuck around because of four three-pointers (and three free throws on a fouled three attempt) in the half.
In the second half, the lead stretched to 13 a couple times, but the offense would sputter and the Gophers would stick around. Then the whistles picked up, and before you knew it, Minnesota was in the bonus and the lead was down to five points with 9:53 to go. Then Branden Dawson turned the ball over and it was not looking good for MSU.
But that's when things swung back. Joe Coleman immediately turned the ball over for Minnesota and intentionally fouled Dawson on a layup attempt. Dawson only made one free throw, and Green only made one free throw on the ensuing possession, but the Gophers would not get any closer, as MSU pulled away for the win.
Back to that backcourt. Keith Appling struggled to score the ball, shooting 1-for-8 from the field, and that only field goal was a breakaway layup with less than a minute left. He did shoot 5-for-6 from the free throw line, but had four assists to three turnovers. It was a very frustrating night for him. He yelled at Payne late in the game after being called for a five-second violation.
(The team presents Izzo with the game
ball after the game — via @DillonDavis)
The other parts of that backcourt, Brandon Wood shot 0-for-4 in 30 minutes. I didn't see him play at Valpo, but it's clear Big Ten play has been a difficult adjustment for him. He's regressing into simply a ball-handler and three-point shooter, and that's it. After taking eight shots in the previous game, Austin Thornton took just one Wednesday (a miss) and had four fouls, but did place some good defense.
It was the frontcourt that carried the team, led by Green and Dawson — who finished with 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting along with four rebounds and four blocks. While Wood appears to be in a slump, Dawson is starting to get the hang of this Big Ten thing. In the last two games, Dawson has 30 points on 13-for-17 shooting, looking much more comfortable on both sides of the floor.
Some other player notes: Travis Trice did not play because of a hip injury, which doesn't appear to be severe. Russell Byrd saw some quality minutes and made his first career three-pointer in Big Ten play. Byrd played seven minutes — mostly at power forward when MSU went small — and finished with five points. He also played pretty good defense on Minnesota's top player, Rodney Williams. His play is a very good sign for MSU, both the performance and the amount of minutes.
As for Izzo, you obviously can't say enough about what he's done. He came into a good situation following Jud Heathcote, but he built MSU into one of the top programs in the country, turning the NBA down multiple times.
He'll never pass Mike Krzyzewski in wins, as much as it bugs him. He didn't start at a young enough age and and he won't have as much longevity, but Izzo has left his mark as a man of March. One of the reasons he's so successful in March is because of the difficult schedules he prepares for his team. That certainly has cost him regular season victories, but the Final Four banners make up for that. That second national championship is the last thing he wants before riding off into the sunset. He's always said the program is bigger than him, but that's because he elevated the program to such a level.
"I'm part of a neat place, a great institution, hopefully a program that's going somewhere this year," he said to BTN.
Adding some more banners is something no one thought this year's team could do. But they've meshed off and on the court. Even on a day when the backcourt struggles mightily, the frontcourt dominated what is supposed to be Minnesota's strength. This team is deep, it's versatile, and it's dangerous.
Now the Spartans get some time off before a trip to Illinois next Tuesday. Given the way MSU has played on the road and how Illinois has played in general, I have no idea what to expect. This could be one of those road games that could go a long way if MSU could pick up the win.
Until then, Spartans can enjoy Izzo's 400th win for a while.
Here some Twitter reactions to Izzo's milestone:
Mateen Cleaves: "Congrats to my head coach Tom Izzo 400 wins baby #legend #SpartanNation Yeaaaaaaaaaa"
Travis Walton: "congrats to the best coach in america coach IZZO on getting 400 wins. #spartanpride"
Charlie Bell: "Congrats coach Izzo on #400. Many more to come."
Delvon Roe: "Congrats to coach Izzo for 400 wins great coach. Awesome to have been apart of some of those #SpartanS400"
Hockey coach Tom Anastos: "Congrats to Tom Izzo & @MSU_Basketball on win #400 tonight & am looking fwd to cheering him onto his next 400!"
Lions coach Jim Schwartz: "Congratulations to Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo on reaching 400 wins. An impressive run with a single school."
ESPN's Jay Bilas: "Tom Izzo with his 400th career win tonight. One of the best coaches in American sport, not just basketball. Sparty Party at Izzo's tonight!"