Into the Driver's Seat: Michigan State 73, Illinois 63

This game was played in three distinct phases:

  • Over the first 14 minutes, Michigan State came out looking pretty out of synch, falling behind 8-2 right out of the gate and trailing 24-18 with 6 minutes to go in the first half.
  • Over the next 18 minutes, MSU played the game as well as they've played it all year, outscoring Illinois 46-17 to build a 23-point lead with 8 minutes to go in the game.
  • Over the final 8 minutes of the game, the MSU players lost their focus, allowing Illinois to whittle the lead down to 10 points at the final buzzer.

Add it all up, and the four factor numbers look pretty good:

 

In a 73-possession game, MSU was generally better on defense than offense  They beat Illinois in all but one of the four factors.  The exception is turnover percentage.  Illinois' first-half turnover struggles (30%+) kept them from building a larger lead early on.  The two teams ended up tied at 23.3%, though, as the Spartan players made some sloppy plays with the ball toward the end of the game.

Perhaps the biggest positive from this game was how well the MSU interior players played against arguably the conference's top power forward/center combo.  Delvon Roe, Draymond Green, and Raymar Morgan combined for 36 points on 22 FG attempts (official box score is here).

On the other side, Mike Tisdale struggled with foul trouble, finishing with just 2 points and 1 rebound in 19 minutes.  And Mike Davis took 15 FG attempts to get to 11 points, as MSU denied him space to operate around the lane.  The only big man to hurt MSU was previously-non-scorer freshman Tyler Griffey, who scored 12 points on 2-3 three-point shooting.

The perimeter defense was pretty solid, too.  The D.J. Richardson/Brandon Paul freshman guard combo was held to 10 points on a whopping 21 FG attempts.  Demetri McCamey showed flashes of brilliance, scoring 15 points on 10 FG attempts, but, after coming out and hitting the first two shots of the game, he never really imposed himself on the game.  McCamey continues to fascinate me--a player with as much talent as anyone in the league this side of Evan Turner who can never seem to find a consistent offensive role (sort of like Raymar Morgan, I suppose).

It was a mixed bag for the MSU guards.  After looking really out of sorts early on, Kalin Lucas turned things around to score 20 points on 12 FG attempts (8-9 at the line).  And Korie Lucious had his best game in quite a while, with 8 points, 4 assists, and zero turnovers in a career-high 27 minutes.  He came in early and played well at the point when Lucas was struggling; he threw a couple passes on the fast break that were stunning in their execution.

Chris Allen (1-5 from the field) and Durrell Summers (3-10), meanwhile, never found any offensive rhythm.  Summers continues to be a force on the boards, though: 9 rebounds, 4 of them on offense.

Bulleted observations not yet covered:

  • Remember when Delvon Roe was the freshman who made us all cringe when he went to the free throw line?  A perfect 7 for 7 from the charity stripe today.  Didn't seem to be bothered by whatever he did to his right wrist (which was taped) during warmups.
  • Weird stat: Only 4 MSU players posted an assist today, and all 4 posted exactly 4 of them.  Lucas, Lucious, Morgan, and Green.
  • Dion Sims made his first appearance as a Spartan basketball player in the final minute.  Missed a contested layup.  Looks like a pretty solid 270 pounds.
  • Per The State News, Tom Izzo said, "Raymar Morgan is still a stater."  (Summers started in his place)  Apparently, he was just dealing with some personal issues and Izzo wanted to take a little presure off him.  Seemed to work: 10 rebounds for Raymar to go with his 14 points.

With the results in Evanston and Columbus tonight, MSU now finds itself 2 games up in the loss column on everyone in the league besides Illinois.  And if there's any game in Big Ten play that should be a win, it's a home game vs. Iowa (Wednesday, 6:30, BTN), meaning that a 6-0 start looks highly probable.

We're still less than a third of the way through the conference season--and MSU will have to play 7 of its final 12 games on the road, so there are plenty of potential losses out there.  But you certainly couldn't ask for a better start to conference play in terms of putting MSU in position to win a second consecutive league title.  The fact that they find themselves in that position, despite having quite a bit of room left to improve is, I think, reason to be optimistic.

P.S.  Rexrode has your updates on Will Gholston (sure looks like he'll be making his him in East Lansing next fall) and Travis Walton (may also be taking up residence in E.L.)

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