The Spartans triumph over the Longhorns 67-63 in a 66-possession game. Official box score.
- MSU shot 8-17 from the free throw line.
- Chris Allen didn’t score a single point.
- Raymar Morgan took three shots from the field and turned the ball over 6 times.
- Kalin Lucas and Travis Walton shot a combined 7-21 from the field.
- Texas pulled down 15 offensive rebounds in 39 opportunities (38.5%).
- Texas’ starting forward made 4 of 7 three-point attempts.
What are the odds MSU wins a game that contained those statistical components?
Pretty darn good, apparently.
It’s easy to throw around cliche’s when it comes to the outcomes of sporting events. But this one deserves some. Our Spartans played with moxie, composure, and, yes, toughness today. The graph below sums things up: They simply found more ways to make shots than Texas did.
MSU hit 25 of 46 FG attempts inside the arc (54.3%) while Texas made just 17 of 41 two-point attempts (43.8%). That was enough to overcome disadvantages on the boards and at the free throw line. (Regarding rebounding: Texas was the clearly the better team on the boards, but the 2-3 air balls that dropped in a Longhorn player’s hands were frustrating.) Eight of the Longhorns’ 17 two-point makes were by back-up forward Gary Johnson; the rest of the team couldn’t find good scoring opportunities near the basket against the MSU defense.
They key to MSU’s shooting proficiency: Mr. Goran Suton, who made 7 of 8 shots from the field, including a couple absolutely beautiful old-man trick shots. I think even I (who has composed an ode to the man) underestimated how much we missed him. The fact that he was somehow physically able to play 26 minutes today was a (if not the) difference maker today.
The key to Texas’ shooting woes: Mr. Travis Walton. There isn’t a Spartan fan alive that hasn’t grumbled about Walton’s offensive deficiencies over the last 13 months. But tonight he showed why Tom Izzo loves him so much. Walton took a senior All-American candidate who came into the game averaging 21.0 points per game and took him completely out of his game. A.J. Abrams finished the game with 8 points on 10 FG attempts, without a single made 3-pointer. By the end, Abrams was so frustrated he was throwing up off-balance fade-away shots from the corner and missing the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity. For long stretches, you hardly noticed Abrams was on the court–despite the fact he played the full 40 minutes.
To complete the trio of senior Spartans who came up big somewhat unexpectedly tonight, Idong Ibok played a season-high 17 minutes. His stat line wasn’t eye-popping: 2 points, 3 rebounds, and a block. But he gave the team some tough minutes inside, helping to contain the immense force (and less-than-classy competitor) that is Dexter Pittman and contributing to MSU’s top-notch field goal defense. Izzo went big today; by my calculations, Morgan only played at the 4 spot for 4 minutes. Draymond Green chipped in 10 minutes, too, pulling down 4 rebounds and, more surprisingly, picking up 3 assists.
On to the underclassman player of the game: Durrell Summers. The clutch three-point shooting was, of course, what he’ll be remembered for in this game. But the final play he made was pretty important, too: skying as high as he could possibly leap to corral the defensive rebound that sealed the game. On a night when Chris Allen couldn’t convert any of what were some pretty good early scoring opportunities, Summers stepped up big. One of this team’s strengths was supposed to be–and perhaps now is again–the ability to get points from a variety of players on any given night.
Our chief scoring option, Raymar Morgan, struggled to score, as I had foreseen (chalk me up for one accurate prediction so far this season). Damion James (15 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals) was too much for Morgan, holding him to just 8 points. But I give Morgan tremendous credit. He continued to play aggressively on offense and didn’t pout. He stayed on the court for a team-high 33 minutes and used the fact that the Texas defense was keying on him to create scoring opportunities for his teammates. He finished the game tied with Kalin Lucas with four assists, one of which came on the game-winning 3-pointer. (On the other end of the court, it’s curious that Texas didn’t go to James more–as one Longhorn observer would have preferred–given Morgan’s propensity to pick up cheap fouls.)
Kalin Lucas’ performance was about what we might have expected: poor shooting (5-13 from the field, 1-3 from the line) and proficient ball-handling (4-1 assist-turnover ratio). But he never wavered in pushing the ball up the floor and took advantage of the Longhorn transition defense on a couple occasions. And he stuck with Abrams quite well when Walton was out of the game.
There are a lot of key moments in a game like this one. Of particular encouragement, given our past struggles in this area, were the two baskets MSU converted off in-bounds plays. Early on, Texas was overplaying defensively when MSU in-bounded the ball off dead-ball situations, and MSU had to resort to dangerous long passes into backcourt. They adjusted, though, and used Texas’ defensive aggressiveness against them by breaking a player back toward the basket two times for lay-ups.
That was the theme tonight, I guess: MSU’s ability to counterpunch. It seemed like we were down by a basket the entire game and, when Suton turned the ball over down 5 with just over 5 minutes to go, I wasn’t sure we had enough counterpunches left. But Suton stole the ball on Texas’ next possession and Lucas and Summers proceeded to score 6 points on MSU’s next 3 possessions to grab a one-point lead and give MSU life in the final 3 minutes.
It’s easy to get excessively excited about a single win (after all, our win against Texas last season preceded a disappointing showing in conference play) but this one is as big as any single nonconference win can be. It gives the team a huge jolt of confidence and momentum going into the Big Ten season, it keeps our chances of getting a #2 or #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament alive, and it helps restore our reputation as a team that can deliver a gutsy defensive performance in a big game.
Merry Christmas, everyone, five days early. Next up: A game against the Oakland Grizzlies at the Palace on Saturday night (5:00, Fox Sports Detroit).
P.S. Free throw shooting would still seem to be our Achilles heel. But Delvon Roe’s 0-for-6 performance was almost solely responsible for the team’s dismal shooting line from the stripe tonight. Hard to say what the issue is. He’s shooting the ball confidently–almost too confidently. Every miss was off the back of the rim. How about he just moves back a foot before shooting the ball?