The Spartans run, not walk, past the Huskies 82-73 in a 74-possession game. StatSheet box score.
At this point, it’s hard to find more words to describe how well this team is playing. This game was almost a carbon copy of the Louisville game in terms of scoring flow: It was back and forth in the first half with the two teams basically playing even. MSU eventually wore the opponent down with their depth and game plan to build a double-digit lead in the final minutes. (The mini-collapse at the end was a little troubling, but I think there was a certain shock factor in adjusting to an opponent suddenly pressuring you full-court after playing a fairly passive defense for 35+ minutes.)
It was pretty apparent early that Tom Izzo had not consulted Digger Phelps about the game plan: The plan was to run early and run often. By doing so, MSU was able to create scoring opportunities near the basket without Hasheem Thabeet in position to block shots. For the game Thabeet, blocked just two shots (a stat I had a hard time believing when I saw the box score). UConn totaled 7 blocks–just 13.2% of MSU’s 2-point attempts, which was right in line with the percentage that USC and Louisville blocked.
Looking at the four-factor numbers, things played out as we hoped they would:
We won the turnover battle decisively (looking at the stats they put up on the scoreboard at Ford Field, it seemed like were “stuck” on 6 turnovers forever), kept the rebounding margin even, and ended up taking 13 more shots from the field that the Huskies did. We didn’t shoot the ball all that well (47.2% on 2-pointers, 31.6% on 3-pointers), but it was good enough to hit 1.11 on the offensive points-per-possession meter. (That’s two straight games above 1.10 against two of the top three defenses in the entire country.)
As the numbers predicted, UConn took more shots from the line (33 vs. 20, with the gap narrowed by UConn’s intentional fouls at the end). But they weren’t efficient in turning those opportunities into points, shooting just 63.6% from the stripe. Kemba Walker’s 3-9 performance had to be particularly demoralizing to the Huskies, as Walker missed his first 5 attempts from the line.
Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrian were dominant early on. The two players finished with a combined 30 points on 23 FG attempts. But Izzo stuck with the strategy of playing them straight up and, eventually, they couldn’t continue to provide consistent scoring. A.J. Price was forced to try to create offense for UConn, but Travis Walton made him take 20 shots from the field to get to his 15 points. Even better for us, Price had just 1 assist.
For the game, UConn recorded an assist on only 8 of their 25 made field goals. MSU forced them to make individual plays to beat them and, in the end, the Huskies couldn’t make enough of those plays. Stanley Robinson played with tremendous efficiency (15 points on 6 FG attempts and 13 rebounds) but he still seemed like a secondary player in UConn’s overall scheme.
For MSU, this was yet another “team” effort, in every sense of the word. I was particuarly struck by how well the three freshmen played. Here they were, less than five months into their college careers, playing in front of 72,000 people, and none of the three seemed the least bit intimidated:
- Korie Lucious was huge in the first half, scoring 11 points (on a total of 8 FG attempts for the game) to help keep MSU within striking distance. With UConn playing a fairly passive defense, it was a great situation for Lucious to shine, and he came up huge.
- Delvon Roe had 4 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 21 minutes of play. He played with composure against the UConn big men, with one of his baskets coming off a move that seemed to involve at least three pump fakes.
- Draymond Green somehow scored 8 points in just 12 minutes of play. The man simply has no fear. How about the confidence he demonstrated in knocking down that open 18-footer late in the game?
Moving on to the big-number performances, one came from an expected source, and one did not:
- Kalin Lucas put up 21 points on 3-6 three-point shooting to go with 5 assists. At this point, the only other point guard out there I’m willing to concede can match the combination of ability and moxie that Lucas has will be on the other side of the court when Monday’s game tips off. That move Lucas made on the fast break to split the two UConn defenders was pure brilliance.
- Raymar Morgan played the best game of his career: 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 steals against the very epitome of the kind of tall, athletic opponent he normally struggles against. I thought his confidence would melt away after he had his first shot of the game blocked by Thabeet, but MSU retained the ball (on a team rebound) and Morgan came right back and knocked down a shot. From there, his confidence swelled.
Your other six Spartan contributors:
- Travis Walton made A.J. Price’s life miserable, dished out 9 assists, stole the ball twice, and didn’t record a single turnover. With those contributions, we can live with a 1-6 shooting night.
- Goran Suton only scored 4 points. He wasn’t going to have any success down low, and the UConn players seemed focused on not letting him get good perimeter looks. But he was fairly effective in denying Thabeet position (getting into foul trouble in the process), and chipped in 7 rebounds, 2 assists (including the gorgeous backdoor pass to Summers in the final minute), 2 steals, and a block.
- Durrell Summers had a pretty nice dunk, if I recall correctly. For the game, he posted 10 points and 6 rebounds. At this point, I’d hope that national commentators have seen enough of his play (not to mention that of Lucas, Morgan, and Allen) to stop saying we’re lacking “talent.”
- Chris Allen wasn’t on, shooting just 1-6 from the field in 9 minutes. But he’s now reached the point where he’s no longer a major liability on the floor when he’s not scoring.
- Marquise Gray scored on a dunk early in the first half. That play doesn’t register in my memory banks; I’ll have to take note when I rewatch the game on DVR later today.
- Idong Ibok did what he needed him to do: absorb fouls. Three fouls and 2 rebounds in 6 minutes.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any MSU team play 80 minutes of basketball as well as this team has played them over the last two games. Everyone’s contributing right now. That’s created a versatility that’s allowed us to win back-to-back games of completely different tempos: 56 possessions against Louisville, 74 against UConn. We forced an up-tempo, pressing team to play a slow-down game, and we forced a great half-court defensive team to play up up-tempo game. Tom Izzo has now thoroughly out-coached two (fellow) future hall-of-fame coaches in two consecutive games on the sport’s biggest stage.
Speaking of stages, the scene at Ford Field was pretty darn cool. At least 40,000 of the 72,000 seats were occupied by Spartan fans. But what really created an advantage was having the students there. The Izzone members initiated the loudest cheering, as the rest of the fans followed their lead. The sizable fan advantage certainly wasn’t the deciding factor, but it did seem to help keep UConn off balance when MSU made their run to extend the lead to double digits in the second half.
- Outside the arena: Jim Boeheim, Derrick Coleman.
- On the concourse: Mark Dantonio, Emeka Okafor, Charles Rogers.
- In the MSU section behind the basket: Greg Kelser, Drew Naymick (with whom Goran Suton spent 10 minutes chatting after the game), Antonio Smith, Mike Chappell.
- Walking up the aisle in the corner of the MSU section (where the Spartans Weblog clan was seated): Most of the MSU players. Mrs. SW was able to obtain the autograph of Mr. Draymond Green.
It was the most magical night yet in this storybook run–a run that could now end with a classic storybook ending: Beating a nemesis that humiliated us by 35 points earlier this season in the very same locale. More on that later today. For now, let it sink in: This team has now taken us farther than all but two other teams in the one-hundred-plus history of the Michigan State basketball program.