Michigan State rode a career-high 22-point performance by Gary Harris, including 6-8 from three-point range, to a big home win over Purdue. The Spartan offense matched their highest point output of the season against a Division 1 opponent and rolled to a 23-point win that seemed a lot closer, for most of the game, anyway, than the final score.
The game certainly was much closer in the first half, with MSU holding Purdue scoreless over the final 3:40, while only scoring two buckets themselves, to create a 6-point gap. Purdue roared out to a 9-2 start in the second half, taking the lead on an A.J. Hammons free throw with 16:04 left. As we often see in Big Ten games, however, the officials began to mysteriously call the game much tighter than they had before, and MSU was able to push their way back to a 6-point lead by getting their first 11 points of the half at the line. From there Purdue, though playing with the longer bench than MSU, seemed to crumble and MSU elevated their energy and intensity, helped greatly by Harris' marksmanship from outside the arc. Within 5 minutes the Spartans turned a deficit into a 10-point lead and never looked back.
Perhaps the key sequence came at around the 13:15 mark when Purdue had the ball trailing by only 2. Anthony Johnson drove the lane but got his elbow up on defender Travis Trice. The initial call was a foul on Trice. But after a lengthy review, and a conference with both coaches, the officials called a technical foul on Johnson for the elbow. Trice hit both foul shots to begin a 16-2 MSU run that put the game away.
It certainly didn't look like a 20-point blowout in the first half as Purdue used effective shooting from D.J. Byrd, aggressive on-ball defense and strong rebounding to keep it close throughout. In fact, the 36-30 halftime score represented MSU's largest lead to that point. Byrd had 11 points but only got 3 more in the second half and it took a huge effort by impressive freshman big man A.J. Hammons (20 points and 7 rebounds) to keep it from being even worse for the Boilermakers.
This was a 71-possession game, which means it was finally the explosive game from the offense that has been so sorely needed. They scored 1.18 points per trip, mainly due to effective free-throw and three-point shooting. The final shooting line was .429/.533/.818 (2P/3P/FT). And they did it against a very effective defense, ranked #40 in kenpom.com's defensive efficiency rankings coming in. In fact, MSU scored more efficiently on Purdue than any previous opponent, Notre Dame being the only team to have hit even the 1.1 PPP mark against the Boilers.
Besides efficient scoring, MSU locked this game up by reasserting itself on the glass and putting their fingers in the turnover dyke. At the half the Spartans had been held to under 20% offensive rebounding, pulling down only 3 of their own misses, and had committed 7 turnovers, all of them in the first 14 minutes. In the second half, it seemed there were single possessions where MSU got 3 offensive boards, on their way to finishing with a respectable 35% offensive rebounding rate and holding Purdue to 26%. And they finished with 12 turnovers, a tolerable 17% rate and their second-lowest raw number of the season. The full four factors graph is below. The statsheet.com game page can be found here and the official box score is here.
Impressive individual performances were not hard to find either, especially since Izzo is continuing to go with basically a 7-man rotation. Outside the top 7, despite holding a 22-point lead with 6-1/2 minutes left, Izzo only gave a total of 21 minutes to the rest of the team, 6 of those in garbage time.
Branden Dawson put up a fairly quiet double-double, going for 14 points and 11 rebounds. He was ineffective in the first half, scoring only 4 and missing several opportunities at the rim when it looked like he passed up possible dunks. But he turned it on in the second half and did it without committing any turnovers. He also looked more focused on defense.
MSU managed this relative offensive explosion without a big contribution from Keith Appling, who had clearly been targeted by Matt Painter for cheap-suit style coverage from Ronnie Johnson. Appling only took 6 shots, hitting 2 of them, but performed very effectively as a point guard, handling the ball under heavy pressure and logging 8 assists against only 1 turnover. The turnover problems continued to belong mainly to Denzel Valentine, who committed 4 of them against 4 assists, but he helped offset this with 11 points and 5 boards. Travis Trice had 12 points, including 2 first-half threes, and 2 assists.
Izzo did not get spectacular play from his bigs, but they were effective at times, despite not having an answer for Hammons. The Big Ten's leading defensive rebounder, Adreian Payne, picked up 8 more (9 total boards) in just 20 minutes. Derrick Nix feasted on Travis Carroll and struggled against Hammons on his way to 10 points and 5 rebounds. The #FreeMattCostello movement got a small boost as the freshman managed another bucket in his two minutes of court time.
All told, an encouraging performance after a disappointing loss in Minnesota. This was the first of four games the Spartans really need to have to stay in shouting distance of the conference leaders. Next up is the toughest of the four, a road game at Iowa, where Indiana just had a bit of a scare in escaping with a 4-point win.