They say you can't teach size.
In my Q&A with Beyond The Arc, I picked Derrick Nix as my player of the game. Valpo was generally a short and light team. Nix is not light, and Adreian Payne is not short. MSU was a more athletic team and they had to dominate inside.
In the end, Nix scored 23 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, and the Spartans as a team grabbed an incredible 57 percent of their misses en route to a 65-54 win over Valpo in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. (Box score). MSU advances to play Memphis on Saturday, at 2:45 p.m..
MSU was 0-for-3 from the field before Valpo touched the ball. At the first media timeout, MSU was 3-for-14, and the game was tied at eight. Still, it never really felt like the game was close. MSU was missing layups, while Valpo couldn't get a good look. Things quickly turned as the MSU shots started to fall. Over the final 10:14 of the first half, Valpo made two field goals, and MSU led 35-18 at the break.
It got to the point where you were with Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery in feeling good for the Valpo kids who actually made shots. The final numbers were ugly.
Valpo came into the game No. 4 in eFG% at 56.1 percent. Against MSU, it was just 41.7 percent. The Crusaders went 7-for-25 from deep, and a number of those makes came in garbage time. MSU's offense was balanced, making 46.5 percent of it 2s and 40 percent of its 3s. Keith Appling was 3-for-5 from deep, putting him at 7-for-12 in the last two games.
MSU's turnover numbers were high against a team that doesn't force many turnovers, but many of these were a result of being aggressive: driving into the lane and losing it or committing an offensive foul. They weren't lazy passes, which normally happens when MSU has a high turnover rate.
On the glass, four MSU players had at least two offensive rebounds, and two more had one. Nix had nine offensive rebounds and seemed to just be knocking tip-in attempts back to himself.
About that garbage time, Valpo nearly backdoor covered the spread, finishing the game on a 10-0 run in the final two minutes. Russell Byrd finished with a 2 trillion and -7 in two minutes.
Saw the Valpo box and had to check. In three would-be blowouts over Mich., Wisc. and Valpo MSU was outscored 29-3 in garbage time.— Tim Conner (@connertp) March 22, 2013
-- Derrick Nix simply was Ryback. Valpo tried to double him early and often in the first half, but he began going into his moves quicker than the double could come. MSU hitting outside shots helped that, too. His 23 points came on 10-for-17 from the floor and 3-for-5 from the line. He demanded the ball and scored. When he missed, he grabbed the rebounds. He complained about the lack of foul calls when the game was a blowout. There's no tomorrow for him, and he played like it. He had to be dominant against a team the size of Valpo, and he was.
-- Keith Appling continues to be solid scoring the ball, finishing with 15 points on 6-for-12 shooting and the aforementioned 3-for-5 from deep. He also had six rebounds, one assist and no turnovers. His assist numbers haven't been high recently, but the team is sharing the ball well (16 assists on 26 baskets Thursday). Seven players had an assist on Thursday. Appling came up limping after an alley-oop attempt in the first half, but stayed in the game and looked OK in the second half. He reportedly aggravated knee tendonitis, and he'll have to play through it, though he brushed it off after the game.
-- Gary Harris was MSU's final player in double-figures, scoring 10 points on 4-for-11 shooting, including 2-for-5 on 3s. He struggled a bit with his shot, but didn't seem to be hurting much with that shoulder, and he still shoots with confidence. Harris also had four rebounds, four assists, two steals, one block and two turnovers.
-- Branden Dawson scored seven points on 3-for-6 shooting and looked more focused than he has been in some time. In his first NCAA Tournament game, Dawson also grabbed six rebounds (two offensive), had three assists, one steal and no turnovers in 31 minutes. He played good defense on Ryan Broekhoff (2-for-11 shooting), when matched up on him. Dawson is a big key for MSU if they want to make a run. He doesn't have to score a ton, but he can't be a liability on offense and he has to bring good defense. He did that Thursday. It's nice not to be playing Big Ten defenses.
-- Adreian Payne had an odd game. He finished with seven points on 2-for-5 shooting with four rebounds in 26 minutes. He also had three assists, six turnovers and four fouls. One of those turnovers was an over-and-back, a few were offensive fouls and two were him getting his pocket picked. With everything going through Nix successfully, Payne had limited use on offense.
-- Travis Trice played 21 minutes, scoring three points on a long ball. He missed one two-point attempt and is shooting 16.9 percent on 2s this year. He finished with three turnovers and no assists.
-- Denzel Valentine didn't score, but contributed with six rebounds, three assists and a steal to one turnover.
-- Matt Costello had a rebound, an assist and two blocks, including this stuff.
Overall, you'd like to see more scoring from the bench, but it didn't matter in this one. The performances of Appling, Nix and Dawson were very encouraging moving forward.
Next up is a Memphis team that is more athletic than Valpo at every position. We'll have a preview up later Friday. This one's going to be a battle.
One down, five to go.