Sunday, February 5, 2012

Thoughts on MSU's 64-54 win over Michigan

(Box score here)

Draymond Green was the story before the game for multiple reasons, including his poor performances against Michigan and his injured left knee.

As it turned out, Green was the story of the game for different reasons, tying the U-M team in rebounds and leading the Spartans to a 64-54 win over the Wolverines.

"Draymond didn't want to go out losing four in a row to them," Tom Izzo said. Hopefully we switched the trend and it will start going the other way again."

The day belonged to the senior, as Green backed up his guarantee with 14 points, 16 rebounds and four assists to move to 4-3 against U-M (17-7 overall, 7-4 Big Ten) in his career. Before the game, he said he hated the Wolverines, and only death would keep him out of Sunday's game. The grim reaper was nowhere in sight.

While the Izzone chanted "little sister" as the final seconds counted down, don't expect "order to be restored," as it were. As I said before the game, this U-M program is still on the upswing, as is MSU (18-5, 7-3). The rivalry won't be like the old days, but this was an old-time performance by MSU.

 The Spartans dominated the glass, outrebounding U-M 40-16, and played lock-down defense, holding the Wolverines to their lowest point total of the season. MSU missed 22 shots and got 12 of them back with offensive boards. 

"They really have a lot of ways that they can take you out of what you want to do," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "Also, they've got such girth inside and length inside, it's really tough. They just pound the ball in the post and with some of the teams we've played, we've been able to deal with that, but today we couldn't."

Football players Travis Jackson, Le'Veon Bell
and Will Gholston watched the game from
the Izzone. (via @MSU_Football)

MSU got big-time performances from pretty much everyone, most notably Green and Brandon Wood. After losing his starting spot, Wood came off the bench with a lot of energy and focus, scoring four points in the first seven-plus minutes. He had four in a forgettable performance in Ann Arbor. Wood finished with nine points, four rebounds and four assists, playing like the guy MSU expected when he came from Valpo. The performance was especially gratifying for Wood since his step brother was shot in the head a few days ago, according to the LSJ. Wood's brother is expected to be OK.

It took the Wolverines more than five minutes to hit their first basket of the game, as MSU jumped out to an early 15-7 lead. But Keith Appling picked up his second foul of the game with 8:56 left in the first half, allowing the U-M offense to get going a little bit. When Appling left the game, the Wolverines scored 11 points in the final five minutes and trailed MSU, 30-22 at the half.

MSU's defense continued strong in the second half, as U-M didn't score its first points until more than four minutes into the half. MSU extended the lead to 16 after a bucket by Derrick Nix, and looked to be pulling away. But assistant coach Dane Fife picked up a technical foul — shortly after U-M received one — as the Wolverines went on an 13-5 run to cut the deficit to eight and make the crowd a little uneasy.

But the defense locked down, and the Spartans went on a 10-1 run to up the lead to 17 and put the game out of reach.

After really struggling the last few games, Keith Appling turned in his most complete performance in some time. He finished with 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting and played elite defense on U-M leading scorer Trey Burke. The Wolverine freshman finished with 11 points, but it was on 4-of-11 shooting and he had four turnovers.

U-M's offense is built around the pick-and-roll with Burke, and not only did MSU's guards play it well, the big men did too. Other than a few times of miscommunication leading to open layups, the Wolverines could barely drive to the hoop and often had to just throw up jump shots. One Wolverines who resorted to that most of the day was Tim Hardaway Jr., who had four points on 1-for-10 shooting

Izzo said his second and third stars of the game would have been Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne. The pair combined for 11 points (5-for-12 shooting) and nine rebounds, along with the aforementioned pick-and-roll defense.

Branden Dawson tied with Appling for second in scoring for MSU with 10 points in 21 minutes on 4-for-6 shooting — his fourth straight game in double-figures.

Mark Dantonio tells Tom Izzo the secret to beating
Michigan, probably. (via @MSU_Football)

It can't be emphasized enough how energetic the Breslin Center crowd was. Numerous reporters said it was the loudest Breslin had been in a long time, and some U-M reporters said the atmosphere was comparable to Indiana's Assembly Hall. There was plenty of build-up for this game, and the result was the most-attended game by students (based on percentage) since 2005. The question now is if the crowd, specifically the Izzone, will continue like that. 

Green's performance won't be forgotten for a long time, with the injury, his past history with U-M and the quotes he's poured out since the loss in Ann Arbor earlier this season. Green became the fourth Big player since the 1996-97 season to have at least as many rebounds as his opponent. Had Austin Thornton not missed a free throw in the final seconds, Green would have outrebounded the Wolverines. It will be interesting if these teams meet in the Big Ten Tournament, as both teams won the home matchups this year.

As big as breaking the losing streak to U-M was, you could argue this game meant more in terms of Big Ten standing, even if Izzo disagreed

"I don't know if this was a must win. I guess they are all must wins when you compete for a championship, but this was more about the rivalry than it was the Big Ten," Izzo said. "My guys understand how important this game is to people in the past. We get our identity back."

This is the first time in a long, long time that both teams are in the hunt for the Big Ten title. The Spartans are now alone in second place in the Big Ten, one game behind Ohio State, whom MSU travels to next weekend.

But before that, the Spartans welcome Penn State to Breslin on Wednesday. Coming off back-to-back superb defense performances, MSU still is in good shape to make a run at the Big Ten title with control of its own destiny.

(Also, women's hoops beat Michigan 65-63 in Ann Arbor and the hockey team faces the Wolverines this weekend, so rivalry week has only just begun).

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