Recap: Poison Ivy

Leon Halip

I tried to find the PG version of Forrest Gump where he comes up with the bumper sticker "It Happens."

This happens to MSU. Every year. It happens.

Last season, MSU defeated Boise State by four, Louisiana-Lafayette by three and struggled against Loyola Chicago, Tuskegee and Bowling Green. MSU plays down to lowly nonconference opponents, and that was the case in Friday's 62-53 win over Columbia.

But there's a reason that, when MSU plays down to opponents, it gets really close. And you thought a win over Kentucky meant this MSU team was going to be different? These last two games have revealed some very real problems with this team that will need to be fixed in the rest of the nonconference schedule. Even if MSU is No. 1, it's not problem-free.

BOX SCORE

MSU got off to a 9-0 lead, and it looked like smooth sailing, but after Columbia took a 17-15 lead with 7:32 to play in the second half, MSU wouldn't lead for another 20 minutes of game time. It was a 26-22 halftime deficit, as MSU surpassed the entire Kentucky game with eight turnovers. MSU was outscored in transition 6-2.

In the second half, the goal was clear, run and get the ball inside.

The problem is, MSU doesn't have much of anything inside other than Adreian Payne (more on this in a bit). MSU grabbed its first lead of the half with 7:29 to play, but Columbia would get it back. The turning point came with less than four minutes to play. With MSU leading 55-53, the Izzone went with the delayed shot clock count, causing the Lions to get a shot clock violation. Next time down the court with the same score, it happened again. Same score back down the court again, and Columbia was fouled. The Lions were 8-for-8 from the line. They missed the front end of a 1-and-1.

MSU threw a lob to Payne and finally opened up a two-possession lead, and free throws down the stretch sealed the win. This was closer than the final score. Game ball goes to the Izzone.

Four Factors

Will be here when available.

It's time to really be concerned about what MSU has on the inside. It was one thing for Kentucky to dominate MSU on the glass. It's another for Columbia to present problems. Rebounding margin is dumb, but it's notable that MSU has lost it in the past two games. Against Columbia, defensive rebounding was fine (Lions OR was 24%). The problem was that MSU only grabbed 17 percent of its misses. This after MSU grabbed 27 percent against Kentucky. Payne had one, Matt Costello had two, Branden Dawson had one and Gary Harris had one. That was it. Columbia has been a good defensive rebounding team (No. 18 last year), but MSU has to be better than that. It's also notable that Columbia turned those those seven offensive rebounds into 10 points.

MSU shot 45.5 percent from the floor, and that includes 0-for-7 from the three-point line. So when they got the ball inside, it was working. It was the first time in five years MSU didn't hit a three.

MSU finished with 11 turnovers, and holding onto the ball in the second half ended up being extremely important. Meanwhile, Columbia had 17 turnovers, and those two thanks to the Izzone proved costly.

I don't know what MSU is going to do inside. Costello started and Gauna got some playing time, but they were simply liabilities. Neither played much in the second half as MSU went small. It's clear that Payne is, by far, the most important player on this team. If he's in foul trouble, MSU has nothing inside. If the outside game isn't working, as it didn't against Columbia, it's all Payne and that's it.

Player breakdown

Adreian Payne - Player of the game by a longshot. He had 26 points on 9-for-15 shooting and 8-for-10 from the line. He also grabbed 11 rebounds. There was a point in the second half MSU gave him the ball on the elbow for, like, five straight possessions. This is where MSU misses Derrick Nix. When the guards were in a rut, they could just throw it to Nix and have him go to work. MSU needs to do that with Payne, but it's hard when he's the power forward.

Gary Harris - Like most of MSU's guards, he was invisible for long stretches. In the second half, he was more assertive and finished with 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting. When the offense is struggling, MSU's options should be Payne and Harris and that's about it.

Denzel Valentine - Ten points on 3-for-6 shooting, including 4-for-5 from the line. Zero assists and one turnover. Was a bit reckless at times. Needs to learn how to finish at the hoop, because when he drives and shoots, his body control is all over the place.

Keith Appling - Remember what we said about Appling needing to be consistent? He was the player of the game against Kentucky and a non-factor against Columbia. Three points on 1-for-3 shooting, including an ugly 1-for-4 at the line. Six assists to two turnovers was good, though.

Branden Dawson - Eight points on 3-for-5 shooting, seven rebounds, three assists, one turnover and some good defense. Played his role well, though you'd like some more offensive rebounds, especially when MSU goes small (which it should, often).

Travis Trice - Twenty minutes of not doing a whole lot. Three points, all from the line. Attempted two shots, didn't grab a rebound and had two assists, two steals on back-to-back possessions and no turnovers.

Matt Costello - This is where we start to really worry. He hasn't shown much difference from last season, and his role has expanded greatly. He's going to start, but I'd expect MSU to start playing small more. He has to do better than three rebounds and zero points in 10 minutes. His defense was also questionable in this one. He's going to need to be a contributor, because he's the No. 2 big man.

Alex Gauna - With the opportunity to grab some playing time, Gauna had one missed shot and one turnover in this one. The rest were zeroes. This after an ugly performance against Kentucky where he was called upon due to Payne's foul trouble. Again, worrisome.

Conclusion

I don't expect Izzo to play small very much in the nonconference unless he absolutely has to, like he did tonight. Costello and Gauna have to provide something. They have to keep playing against these lower teams to get something going. Could Kenny Kaminski fill in? He has yet to play a minute in his career. I imagine Izzo would have played him if this was a blowout. But again, he hasn't played a single minute. No Russell Byrd either.

KJ summed this week up well.

Next up is Portland on Monday, but first, #BeatNebraska.

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