For the last 8 minutes of the first half, this looked like a Michigan State team on the path toward a national title. After South Carolina scored to take its only lead of the game at 21-19, MSU reeled off a 21-4 run in which they displayed crisp passing, tremendous finishing, excellent defensive rotation, and dominant rebounding.
Thank goodness for those eight minutes, because the other 32 were mostly awful. MSU struggled mightily against a well-executed full-court press and, by squandering possessions with turnovers and missed free throws, allowed South Carolina to have a legitimate shot at pulling the massive upset. This was disturbingly similar to last year's Florida game, a debacle that I had the misfortune of seeing in person. At the time, KJ wrote:
And it's not like we didn't know Billy Donovan was going to throw the 2-2-1 press and the 2-3 zone out against us. Yet you could count on one hand the number of times it looked like the MSU players had a specific game plan for how to beat those schemes for easy baskets--despite a full four days of preparation time. The easy baskets that were created seemed more like a function of individual playmaking (e.g., Lucious passes on the drive in the first half) than by any cohesive plan of attack.
Same deal here, basically. The only differences are that 1) MSU built a bigger cushion in the first half tonight, 2) the good things in this game had very little to do with Korie Lucious, and 3) that Florida team was a marginally better squad than this South Carolina team looks to be. (But in freshman Bruce Ellington, the Gamecocks have a more dynamic individual talent than Florida had/has -- and Ellington will no doubt terrorize a few SEC teams this winter.)
This was a 78 possession game -- a fast-ish pace by MSU's normal standards, but considerably slower than Friday night's 90-possession barnburner. As always, the infallible Four Factors graph tells the story.
Actually, let's try that again: the Four Factors graph would have told the story had MSU not shot an utterly putrid 17-for-34 from the foul line. The free throw percentage actually got as low as 33% at one point before--thankfully--MSU turned it around a bit toward the end of the game. The 24.4 TO% is quite disturbing because MSU turned the ball over only 11% of the time in the first half. Once again, the second half was ugly. Really, really ugly. Oh, and we allowed South Carolina to rebound 41% of its misses. Terrific. Let's hang our collective hat upon the 61.3% eFG, call it a night, and never speak of this again.
Player bullets after the jump.
- Delvon Roe had perhaps the best offensive game of his career. 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting, 6 assists, and a respectable-if-not-great 5-of-8 from the line. Defense isn't quite as easy to quantify, but I thought Roe did a nice job defending the interior, and he grabbed 5 defensive boards.
Durrell Summers had an incredibly quiet 22 point night, or so it seemed to me. But that's probably a good thing, in the end: he was able to put up great numbers while playing within himself and not doing anything totally spectacular. (Granted, the alley-oop in the first half was pretty spectacular.) 8-of-17 shooting isn't ideal (the 1-for-5 line from 3 is the primary culprit) but Summers was generally good handling the ball (only one TO), and his two free throws near the end essentially put the game out of reach. Oh, and he was the one who lost his lunch--or dinner, I guess--before the second half. Hooray.
- Draymond Green had some difficulty handling the ball, but, as my2fish pointed out, just look at the stat line: 18 points on 5-6 shooting, 12 boards, 6 steals (!), 4 blocks, and 2 assists. At this pace, it won't be long before he picks up a triple-double. About the ball-handling: Green committed 3 turnovers, and seemed to struggle a bit trying to break the press. But, perhaps my disappointment is a result of inflated expectations. In the end, Green -- a forward -- was entrusted with breaking the press, and did a generally OK job of doing so.
- Kalin Lucas made two of his first three attempts, and then his shot totally abandoned him. He missed his last 5 shots to finish an ugly 2-for-8 from the field, and he missed his only free throw attempt. He made several nice passes to set up easy layups, and a 3.5-to-1 assist/turnover ratio is nothing to be upset about, of course, but Lucas looked a bit out of sorts today. He rolled his ankle in the second half and needed some medical attention, but he came back into the game later. After the game, Izzo confirmed that Lucas is fine.
- Garrick Sherman displayed some nice low post moves and shot a perfect 4-for-4 from the field; he also looked pretty good on the defensive end. However, he was one of the chief strugglers from the line: an 0-4 performance necessitated his benching when the game became close in the second half. Still, quite a bit to be encouraged about.
- Well, it's time to get it out of the way: Korie Lucious had a terrible game. Terrible, terrible, terrible. No points, 5 turnovers, 4 fouls, and 3 assists in 18 minutes of play. Once again, Korie looked utterly overmatched against pressure defense, and committed many of the turnovers that allowed South Carolina to get back into the game. I'm hesitant to be too critical because he missed much of the offseason due to injury, and of course this was his first game this season. But he has to get better, or Mike Kebler and Keith Appling are going to take his minutes.
- . . . that is if Appling can get his own turnover problems under control, of course. Appling showed moments of brilliance (an absolute beauty of a 3-pointer in the first half comes immediately to mind) but also displayed the usual freshman impetuousness -- and naturally, 3 very bad turnovers resulted therefrom. The potential is clearly there, but the performance is a bit behind.
- Much like Appling, Adreian Payne looked intermittently fantastic and not-so-fantastic. The highlights included a great putback dunk (and another one that should have been waived off for goaltending) and 7 rebounds in only 10 minutes. The lowlights included the worst turnover I've seen in years, where Payne tried to save an airball under his own basket and in the process slapped the ball back to an Gamecock player, who was more than happy to oblige with an uncontested dunk. But, at least in my mind, the good outweighed the bad.
- Austin Thornton's performance was one of the real positives on the night: he was very assertive with his shot, and his touch didn't fail him: 2-for-3 from three, and a good showing on defense. If he continues to be confident in shooting the ball (and makes the shots, of course), he'll be a very valuable asset this season.
- Derrick Nix didn't play much: in four minutes, he managed to grab a rebound, make a steal, dish an assist, and miss two free throws. He gets an incomplete. But his weight loss is very, very noticable.
- Mike Kebler played one minute but spoiled his trillion by grabbing a rebound. Sucker.
Izzo surely lit into the team after the game tonight, and I can only imagine that the pre-Maui practices will be intense. As for us fans: let's pretend this never happened, mmkay?
Up next: Your lucky, lucky Spartans head to Maui to take on Chaminade and assorted other teams. First game is next Monday (11/22) at 9:30 PM eastern, on ESPNU.
P.S.: Holy Buckeye. MSU is no longer the conference favorite.