Thrive then Survive: Michigan State 70, New Mexico State 67

What a lovely first half: Michigan State built a 42-29 lead by knocking down 3-pointers (6-13) against a stunningly passive New Mexico State zone defense while preventing New Mexico State to get any kind of easy looks near the basket on the other end (6-19 two-point shooting).  MSU got a big half from a previously-slumping Kalin Lucas (14 points) and offensive contributions from two supporting players who'd been off the radar of late (Durrell Summers with 12 and Delvon Roe with 6).  Despite not having any points from Draymond Green, Raymar Morgan, and Chris Allen, the game had the look of a walk over for the Spartans at halftime.

Then the New Mexico State offense showed up.  Over the first 9 minutes of the second half, the Aggies scored 26 points to MSU's 12, giving New Mexico State a one-point lead with 11 minutes to go.  To a large degree you have to credit the Aggie players, who made a series of difficult contested shots both in the post and beyond the arc.

On the other end, the Aggies shifted to a much more aggressive defensive approach.  That didn't result in MSU turnovers (amazingly, just 2 turnovers in the second half for the Spartans).  But it did knock the MSU players out of their rhythm, causing them to take a number of ill-advised shots.  Summers was perhaps the main culprit, forcing some shots and finishing just 5-15 from the field after having hit his first 4 shots of the game.

From the 11-minute mark on, it was nip and tuck.  Neither team led by more than 2 points until Raymar Morgan's put-back dunk gave MSU a 4-point lead with 1:54 to go.  A tweaked ankle for Kalin Lucas and some sort of foot injury for Chris Allen (looks like things are OK) created additional Spartan duress.

Morgan emerged from a foul-plagued existence over the game's first 34 minutes to score 7 of MSU's final 11 points.  He procured an offensive rebound in traffic and then knocked down a 16-foot jumper to retie the game at 61 with just under 6 minutes to go.  He had the dunk off a missed 3-point shot by Summers to create the 4-point lead with 2 minutes to go.  And he knocked down two free throws to get the lead back up to 3 in the final 20 seconds (aided by a New Mexico State lane violation that I have opined on elsewhere and Seth Davis has added further clarity to).

Over the course of the full game, most of the numbers came out even.  The exception is free throw rate.  MSU used its proclivity for drawing contact to get to the line 33 times (led by Lucas with 12 attempts) and managed to make just enough of them, 23, to squeeze out the win.

 

The failure to win the rebounding battle is disappointing, but the low turnover percentage is encouraging (Allen, Summers, and Lucious combined for nary a turnover).  Surprisingly, this game featured only 63 possessions; offense trumped defense, bucking the recent trend for MSU.

I"ve hit on the major contributions from most of the big-minute guys.  Quick hits on players I haven't mentioned yet:

  • Draymond Green went scoreless from the field, but hit two key free throws late in the game and made big contributions elsewhere: 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks.  6 of Green's 10 defensive rebounds came in the final 6 minutes of the game.
  • Derrick Nix had TWO MADE FREE THROWS!  IN A ROW!
  • Garrick Sherman chipped in 2 points and 4 rebounds in 9 minutes.
  • Austin Thornton had a terrific little spell there in the first half: 3-point make plus 3 rebounds in 4 minutes.
  • Mike Kebler came in late; he did a really nice job closing out on New Mexico State's final 3-point attempt, getting a hand up but not risking a foul.

All in all, I think I'm actually somewhat encouraged by this performance, despite the narrow margin of victory.  Just about every player did something positive tonight.  The team got a little frazzled in the second half, but didn't panic down the stretch.  They put the clamps down defensively when they had to, holding New Mexico State without a field goal for an 8-minute stretch prior to Troy Gillenwater's 3-pointer with 20 seconds left (capping a 17-point, 11-rebound performance for Gillenwater).

The trio of Lucas, Green, and Morgan gives this team a good shot at winning any game that's close down the stretch.  If the supporting cast can build on this performance, MSU will have an opportunity to extend the 2009-2010 basketball season at least one more week.  The margin for error is going to narrow considerably, though.

Next up: The Maryland Terrapins, Sunday afternoon (2:40 ET).  Maryland advanced with an 89-77 win over Houston tonight.  Forward Jordan Williams led the way with 21 points and 17 rebounds against the smaller Houston lineup.  Greivis Vasquez had 16 points and 6 assists.  More on the Terrapins tomorrow.

P.S. I assume Jahmar Young (13 points on 4-11 FG shooting and a DQ) knows who Kalin Lucas (25 points on 7-11 FG shooting) is now.

P.P.S. Scoring for the nontraditional bracket contest through the first round is here, courtesy of Spartan Dan.

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