Rabbit Out of a Hat: Michigan State 76, Washington 71

At halftime of this game, the MSU basketball team didn't look much like, well, a basketball team.  Only 5 Spartans had even attempted a shot, while 8 players had turned the ball over at least once.  In total, the team had turned the ball over on over 1/3 of its possessions.  Outside of the ever-resolute Draymond Green and Kalin Lucas, no one looked like they had any confidence whatsoever in their ability to dribble, let alone shoot, the basketball.  Washington took full advantage, converting a flurry of easy baskets off turnovers to build a 10-point lead at the break.

Then the second half started--and MSU still didn't exactly look like world-beaters.  But they did manage to gather their nerves and get the ball down the court without serving it up on a platter to the Huskies.  Meanwhile, Lucas didn't seem to care that he was playing his third game in three days at something less than full health, hitting a series of shots from both the outside and in traffic around the rim.  Somehow, MSU pulled even.

Still, the team was basically playing with two and a half players on offense for the first 38 minutes of the game: Lucas (29 points on 9-13 shooting), Green (12 points on 5-9 shooting, 6 rebounds), and Garrick Sherman (10 points on 4-5 shooting, but a team-high 4 TOs).  Up until the final 2:06 of the game, the non-Lucas/Green/Sherman Spartans were a combined 5-22 from the field.  

When Lucas went down with the knee injury, with MSU back down by 2, things got pretty darn grim.  Then . . . Durrell Summers appeared out of nowhere--knocking down 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to put MSU in the driver's seat.  The first shot came off a set piece.  Tom Izzo has given up on Summers late in games before; he didn't tonight, and it paid off.  (FWIW, I thought Summers, despite his shooting struggles, was still playing with good energy later in the game.  He hustled to keep offensive rebounds alive a couple different times.)

Credit to Korie Lucious, as well.  Despite being a gametime decision with a rolled ankle, Lucious went 28 minutes and took over primary point guard responsibilities in the second half.  He wasn't perfect by any means (1-7 from beyond the arc), but he was efficient enough to get the ball in position for Lucas to be able to score playing off it.  And the perpendicular pass from the lane to Summers on the second late 3-pointer was a thing of beauty.  Also, he calmly drained two very important free throws to get it back up to a 3-point lead with 8 seconds left.

The big picture, not that any bar graph can capture the essence of this game: This was a 68-possession game.  Considering the number of easy baskets the Huskies got off turnovers in the first half, the MSU defense was quite solid.  They contained Isaiah Thomas (13 points on 4-11 shooting) and limited Matthew Bryan-Amaning's damage inside (15 points, 6 rebounds).  Sherman (2 blocks) deserves quite a bit of credit for the latter; his emergence is perhaps the one big positive to come out of this tournament for MSU.

The defensive rebounding numbers were disappointing once again.  That was more a function of MSU's strange inability to lock down loose balls than it was the result of leaving Washington rebounders un-boxed out, though; Bryan-Amaning was the only Huskie who grabbed more than one offensive board.

On the other end, Green willed 4 offensive boards into his hands, and, thanks mainly to Lucas, MSU's shooting numbers were just good enough to offset the team's 29.4 turnover percentage.  A 72.0-60.0 advantage in free throw percentage helped, as well.

 

Next up: Eat a whole lot of turkey and put most of the past three days behind us.  Considering the generally very shaky level of play from MSU in Maui, flying home with a 2-1 record, including a win against a ranked opponent, is something to be thankful for.  The team will take the court next back on the friendly non-PAM-coated Breslin Center floor against Tennessee Tech.  Sunday at 1:00, BTN.

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