We're all excited for the Rose Bowl tomorrow. I know this. You know this. Almost every Spartan alive on the green Earth knows this. However, Michigan State played a basketball game that will have an impact on the Big Ten regular season title race, and this will be significant come March. So here's what you need to know about the Spartans' win over Penn State.
The first half was ugly. Even though MSU kept up with the Nittany Lions offensively, defensively the Spartans were uncoordinated. Penn State was making most of their open three pointers, and the Spartans were fouling on shots they had no business fouling on. On top of that, PSU let loose a trap towards the end of the first half, which led to 3-4 Spartan turnovers in a row. Despite that, MSU was only down by seven at halftime, thanks to an improbable banked Branden Dawson hooked shot.
The second half went almost all Michigan State's way. I was tempted to use "A Tale of Two Halves" for the headline when I realized that headline has been used by every newspaper, blog, program, and pamphlet ever, and decided against it. Since you're still thinking "ROSE BOWL ROSE BOWL ROSE BOWL" I'll keep it brief: MSU stopped turning it over, Penn State missed the looks they would've made in the first half and started to turn it over more, 30-8 partway through the second half, yada yada yada, Tom Izzo now tied with Branch McCracken (yup, that's a real name) 5th in all-time Big Ten conference wins.
Here are the four factors:
Offensive rebounds were a key, as you can tell. While it may look like free throw shooting was a positive for the Nittany Lions, they were 14-22 from the foul line compared to the Spartans' 11-14.
Now for player bullets:
- Branden Dawson -- 20 points on 8-14 field goals (4-4 FT), 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 turnovers. Dawson had two standout scores here -- the hook shot off glass that ended the first half and what can only be described as a reverse-tip-in-off-the-glass. It'd be negligent to mention how well Dawson did without mentioning...
- Adreian Payne -- 5 points on 2-2 field goals (1-1 FT), 10 rebounds, 3 assists. The "3 assists" part of Payne's stat line is key, as he had several (more than three, in fact, if I'm remembering correctly) great passes to Dawson in the paint, whereupon Dawson had either a wide-open dunk or an easy lay-up. Penn State clearly game-planned to stop Payne, but he adjusted by finding the open man. A very, very good sign heading forward.
- Keith Appling -- 14 points on 6-15 field goals (2-5 from three), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks. Appling had two threes in the second half that generated the Spartans' second-half run.
- Gary Harris -- 13 points on 4-12 field goals (3-5 from three), 5 rebounds, three turnovers. His ankle is obviously still hurting, but he keeps shooting from deep, as he should.
- Travis Trice -- 12 points on 4-7 field goals (2-3 from three). If Trice can contribute this off the bench every night, MSU will be tough to beat in the Big Ten.
- Kenny Kaminski -- 6 points on 2-5 (2-4 from three). His two threes in the first half kept Michigan State close to Penn State, which was sorely needed at that time.
And that's all for now. The men's basketball Spartans next play at Indiana on Saturday, but let's be honest -- we're all focused on tomorrow. So celebrate the hell out of this new year, welcome in 2014, and get ready to watch Michigan State participate in a bowl game they haven't been in since Reagan was president. Truly, have a happy new year, from one fellow Spartan to everyone.