Michigan State came back after a rough first half to move past Central Connecticut St. on Wednesday night 89-69. The star of the effort was sharpshooting Travis Trice who lit it up like dynamite for a new career high of 20. He hit all four of his long-range attempts and made 2/4 from inside the arc. He did this while finding the opportunities for 5 assists with only 1 turnover. Overall, this was a night when Coach Izzo was not pleased with the team’s play and Trice, along with Nix, was one of the few players who you could say had a "good game."
In the interviews leading up to yesterday’s contest, much was made out of Michigan State’s need to get more out of its wing players. With Travis Trice exceeding most expectations and Keith Appling looking increasingly comfortable in his role as a point guard, pressure is building on Branden Dawson, Brandon Wood, Russell Byrd, and Austin Thornton to do more on both ends of the court. Unfortunately, Wednesday night didn’t do much to satisfy Coach Izzo’s aspirations. Largely because of poor defensive performance, MSU swapped out both of its starting wings (Wood and Dawson; Payne also) in favor of Thornton and Trice (along with Nix) in the second half. This didn't come as a huge surprise. The opening defense by MSU was rather disastrous. CCSU had already put up 26 points and built an 11-point lead with barely eight minutes gone by on the game. It looked like MSU might have to score 100 to win the game.
What changed? Four factors and player bullets after the jump…
Looking at the Four Factors graph, I was surprised in retrospect how close it was. I think the significant disparity in eFG% hits the nail on the head. The game turned when the adrenaline wore dorn, Central Connecticut injuries piled up, and the Blue Devils didn’t have the same legs to keep hitting shots. I don’t know that MSU’s defense kicked it up multiple levels as much as their opponent started missing the decent looks that they were previously hitting. The CCSU FG% dropped ten points in the second half from 40.6% to 29.4%, and I’m sure that first number was even higher in the first 10 minutes of the game. It didn't help that the Blue Devils were hit with numerous injuries resulting in their players having to be helped off the court. In short, they couldn't maintain the pace they had established early on.
- Branden Dawson – If you only saw the statline, you might see 11pts/11 rebs and get excited. However, having attended the game, I’m going to agree with Coach Izzo that BJ’s numbers are deceiving for this one. His defensive struggles were significant and even his scoring and rebounding were forced and didn’t really come in the flow of effective offense. That said, Dawson is an opportunist and it does say something that he was able to put up those numbers even when the game wasn’t naturally coming to him. He had a nice opportunity late to get in the lane and throw down a dunk. It’s a small thing but a better way to end his effort on Wednesday than what was happening earlier.
Adreian Payne – According to Joe Rexrode, Payne called his own play "terrible" and I’ll let him say that. Izzo apparently had no patience for Payne on the court and pulled him for Derrick Nix in the first minute. That proved a wise move as Payne struggled all game to find his spot in the defense, get rebounds, and keep the ball stuck to his hands. Seeing him credited with only 3 boards is not a surprise. At least one of his fouls appeared to be the product of frustration from being out of position on the glass. His struggles and foul situation held him to only 8 minutes.
- Travis Trice – Already mentioned him at the top but not enough can be said about he good Trice is playing. His shooting numbers weren’t only the product of skill but also good looks and savvy choice in shots. Though his size hinders him on the defensive end, he compensates for it by effort and court sense that surpasses any of the other freshmen on most nights.
- Russell Byrd – Russell is playing a "nothing but net, or nothing at all" game. His shots are either coasting through the rim effortlessly or airballs. To me, that says that his primary challenge is still mental. He has to continue to be patient and get looks in the flow of the offense. In an interesting note, I haven’t seen a statistical breakdown but I’m confident Byrd has played more in the post replacing Draymond Green than he has appeared on the wing. This could purely be a match-up issue against small lineups. After all, Day Day played some "5" on Wednesday. However, it could also be concern over Byrd’s quickness and defensive technique. Right now, the staff may be more comfortable with him guarding power forwards than chasing wings.
I’m sure everyone was hoping for a big bump for the upcoming match against Gonzaga. Considering the huge challenge of Duke/UNC, you might consider this MSU’s second true "test" of the season with FSU being the other. I walked into the Breslin yesterday feeling good about MSU’s chances but drove home less so. As the radio guys pointed out, this will be MSU’s first game in a truly hostile away environment. Seeing how this team regroups after a lackluster win and handles that pressure will be the key.