(Box score here)
OK, I cheated you out of my thoughts on the game yesterday. From all the hoopla following the game, to the NCAA seeding, to actually working to driving home to Michigan in the middle of the night, I didn't really have a chance to reflect on the Big Ten Tournament championship.
Here is my game recap and here is my story on MSU earning its first No. 1 seed since 2001 for The Oakland Press.
So back to Sunday, what a game that was.
I wrote that it was like a heavyweight fight. Two titans exchanging blows and answering back. Neither team reached 70 points, but that was because of good defense. This might have been the best game that I've ever seen live. There were 12 lead changes in the first half, and Jared Sullinger only played nine minutes.
In the second half, the Buckeyes went up by seven and Draymond Green went out with an injury. It was danger time. But then Brandon Wood hit two three-pointers and had an assist, giving MSU a lead they would not give up. Wood came to MSU to play on the big stage and it the big shots, and that's exactly what he did. In a game where Keith Appling scored four points and Green shot 4-for-15, the win said a lot about MSU's depth, even without Branden Dawson. One worrisome note was that the Spartans were pounded on the boards by the Buckeyes for the second time in a week. In East Lansing, the Buckeyes had 11 offensive rebounds. On Sunday, they had 18. It's not often MSU wins a game where it loses the rebounding battle by such a large margin, but players stepped up.
Wood dealt with foul trouble in the first half, and William Buford scored 10 points in the first. But Wood held Buford to just one point in the second half. When Dawson went down, we knew players would have to step up. Wood did just that. Austin Thornton and the combination of Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix all had great tournaments. Everyone wanted to see how the Spartans would play without Dawson, and they didn't miss a beat. The Spartans are obviously heading into the NCAA Tournament with a lot of confidence.
It was really touching to see Austin Thornton finish cutting the net at one end and cut a piece with his son on the other. Just like Mike Kebler last year, Thornton has gotten his chance and taken advantage of it in his senior season. I said before the Big Ten Tournament that I thought MSU had a chip on its shoulder it doesn't normally have heading into this thing. The loss to Ohio State and the loss of Dawson changed the mindset, and this year's team has left another footprint on the program with Sunday's win.
I'll post my thoughts on MSU's NCAA Tournament chances later this week, but my first thoughts upon seeing the bracket are that a second-round (third-round) matchup with Memphis may end up being the toughest game on the road to the Final Four. While a lot of people seem to be picking the long, athletic Tigers, remember, this isn't one of John Calipari's Memphis teams. MSU still should win the game, should Memphis get there, but it will be tough. There are a lot of good teams in the West region, but you don't have to beat them all. Having Dawson would be a huge boost to their chances against athletic teams in the region, but don't forget what MSU did Sunday.