Seniors Say Goodbye, Underclassmen Say Hello: Michigan State 85, Iowa 66

Things didn't go quite according to script tonight, as the three seniors combined for only 4 points in the first half.  Instead, it was the younger guys who kept MSU in the game early and then contributed to building a halftime lead.  For the game, the four underclassmen combined for 42 points, led by Keith Appling with 18 points on 4-5 three-point shooting.  Meanwhile, Adreian Payne put up 8 points and 6 rebounds with some very active play down low, Derrick Nix scored 9 points on 5-5 free throw shooting (!!!!!), and Garrick Sherman posted 7 points on several nice finishes around hoop.

Substitute Austin Thornton's 7 points for Sherman's, and you get that same 42-point figure--a downright whopping total for bench production in the context of this MSU basketball season.  Delvon Roe added 4 assists for his part.

All those contributions helped compensate for Kalin Lucas's slow start and Draymond Green's foul trouble (someone needs to hypnotize Green so he thinks he has 4 fouls when the game starts).  Lucas did recover to put up 17 points, including a fade-away three for the final bucket in his Breslin Center career (shades of Shawn Respert, the original mid-court smoocher, in his Senior Day affair).  And Green posted a very productive line considering he played just 16 minutes: 12 points on 5 FGA, 8 rebounds 5 assists.

Durrell Summers never really got going offensively, but he did play aggressively on both ends throughout the game, and scored a twisting fast-break layup late in the game off a pass from Lucas.  The cascade of applause Summers got from the Breslin crowd as he departed the game was, I thought, a really wonderful moment.

All in all, the team and the crowd got just about everything they could have hoped for on Senior Night (no highlight moment for Mike Kebler, unfortunately).  This was a 71-possession game, so the MSU offense was in high gear for most of the night.  85 points is the highest MSU total since the Prairie View A&M game in mid-December.

The defensive numbers were OK, although I think they probably don't tell the whole story.  For once, an opponent was stone cold from three-point range as Iowa shot 0-12 from beyond the arc.  Equalize the 3-point shooting (MSU was 7-14) and this would have been a close game.  MSU's interior defense, meanwhile, suffered a number of breakdowns, as the Hawkeyes shot 52.2% on 2-pointers, led by Melsahn Besabe (6-9) and Jarryd Cole (4-7).

Otherwise, the four-factor numbers were pretty even, as both teams avoided large amounts of turnovers, rebounded at non-deviated levels, and got to the free throw line once, like, every 15 seconds.  MSU wasn't quite as dominant as we might like to see them against the last-place team in the league, but at this point in the season, we're in no position to quibble over the details of a double-digit win.

 

Bigger picture, this is one more step toward solidifying an NCAA bid.  It's entirely possible the team would make the tournament even if it lost its next two games.  A win on Saturday (2:00, CBS) in what stands to be the biggest MSU-UM basketball game in recent memory would leave no doubt.  (Nonrosy scenario: A loss to Michigan, with Illinois and/or Penn State also winning this weekend, would bump MSU out of the top five and create the possibility of a bad loss in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament and a significantly-tougher match-up if the team advances to Friday.)

Closing factoid: Tonight's win means that MSU will have finished with at least a .500 record in Big Ten regular season play for the 18th consecutive season (the final two under Jud Heathcote and all 16 under Tom Izzo).  It sucks to be on the floor, but it sure is nice that the floor is as high as it is.

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