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Solid Start - MSU 71, Minnesota 62

Michigan State held serve at home to begin the Big Ten season, pushing Tom Izzo's record to 6-0 in Big Ten openers at the Breslin Center. It was a solid, if not dominating, win over a strong and highly-ranked Gopher squad. I'm not going to call it an "upset", though Minnesota was ranked 14th in the AP and MSU 20th going in, but MSU really needed this win to set the stage for a strong conference season after a rocky-at-best 8-4 record in the pre-conference.

MSU only went effectively 6-deep in this game, which has to be a source of concern. Although most coaches shorten their benches when conference play begins, the best MSU teams have always gone 8 or 9 deep. Only Garrick Sherman (11 min.) went more then ten minutes in this game outside of the starting 5 plus Lucious, and Appling went scoreless in his 21 minutes. So it remains a concern where the scoring is going to come from when Summers/Lucas/Green need help.

MSU made a grand total of 8 field goals in the first half and, if not for a three-pointer from Lucious with 51 seconds left in the half it would have been 7 of 30, or 23%, and 0 for 13 from three, below even their abysmal shooting night against Texas. Fortunately, another steady defensive performance left them down only 6 at the break. The 22 points the Spartans put up in the first half was their lowest output in a half this season, as they picked up the where they left off after a 25-point second-half against Texas, the previous low.

In a 64-possession game, MSU was adequate on both ends of the court, scoring at 1.11 points per possession and allowing only 0.97 to Minnesota. The Texas game remains the only one where MSU lost while holding the opposition to under a point per trip. Here is your four-factors graph:

Michigan State recovered nicely after a first half which saw them trailing, entirely due to their poor shooting, rather than anything Minnesota was doing to put them off their game. Once the shots started falling, MSU had no problems dispatching the Gophers. Even though Minnesota "won" the battle on the offensive boards 37.1% to 34.3%, 6 of their offensive boards came with under 4 minutes left and Minnesota down by 15. In the other factors, MSU ended up outshooting the Gophers and they won the turnover battle fairly decisively. The Spartans also did nice work at the free-throw line, getting more makes than Minnesota attempted, despite shooting only 68%.

The good news is, MSU won this game comfortably without playing as well as they're capable of and with no one player having an outstanding game. The bad news is, they'll need to get more from the bench and avoid similar slow starts to continue to win against an extremely tough Big Ten schedule this year.

Player bullets after the jump.

  • Durrell Summers - Summers was again the top scorer with 19 points on 16 shots, including 4 of 11 from beyond the arc, all in the second half. His contribution on the boards continues to be consistent and impressive and he finished with 5 rebounds.
  • Delvon Roe - This was a strong game for Roe, against a tall team that might be expected to give him trouble. He had 11 points on just 5 shots and contributed good defense and 9 tough rebounds, 5 of them offensive. A much underappreciated part of his game was again on display here, as he sunk 5 of 6 free throws. He stands 3rd on the team, among players with at least 15 attempts, in free-throw percentage. He's basically shooting free-throws as well as Kalin Lucas, which is fairly remarkable.
  • Draymond Green - Green shrugged off his bad game against Texas and was effective distributing the ball and playing the 4 on defense, which he seems more comfortable with. He had 14 points, 6 boards, 4 assists, 4 steals, 1 block and 3 turnovers.
  • Korie Lucious - had a very nice game, with 11 points, 6 assists and no turnovers. Games like that will make MSU very tough to beat going forward.

It was a so-so night for Kalin Lucas, who needed 10 shots to record his 10 points. He did get 7 assists against only 2 turnovers. No other Spartans were significant factors in the game.

As might be expected, MSU had some trouble with Trevor Mbakwe, who finished with 17 points and 9 boards on 7-12 shooting. But he did not in any way dominate the paint and a lot of his damage came after the game was already in hand for MSU. Blake Hoffarber had a quiet 12 points on 3-8 shooting from 3-point range. I never had a sense that any player from Minnesota was going to win this game for them: it was simply a matter of whether MSU would be able to execute, which they did in the second half.

Next up is Northwestern, who will host MSU after dropping their first conference game to Purdue 73-62 at Mackey. The Spartans will try to continue their sparkling 12.5% turnover rate performance against Minnesota when they take on the Wildcats at Welsh-Ryan. All in all, an encouraging start to Big Ten play this year.