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Defense FAIL: Purdue 76, Michigan State 64

So if I'd told you before the game that Kalin Lucas would be healthy enough to play 29 minutes (and score 12 points on just 6 field goal attempts) and MSU would only turn the ball over 9 times in 64 possessions, you'd have felt pretty good about the likely outcome of the game, no?

As it turns out, though, the largest term in my "fear/paranoia level equation" wasn't turnovers, it was "even Tom Izzo can't gameplan for three reliable scorers."  E'Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson, and Robbie Hummel combined to light the MSU defense up for 59 points on just 37 FG attempts.  The MSU defense had no answers at all for Johnson inside or Moore outside, and per usual Hummel picked his spots with precision (5 assists vs. 1 turnover to go with his 15 points).

It's hard to even separate out how much of Purdue's offensive explosion (47 points in the first half) was them making good plays vs. MSU being out of synch defensively.  It just all fit together into neat package of Boilermaker dominance.

Remarkably, MSU actually won three of the four factors tonight:


The Spartans attempted an extra 12 shots from the field and an extra 8 shots from the line, but still managed to lose by 12 points.  That's a function of a 27-point gap in eFG% and a 14-point gap in FT%.

Offensively, MSU actually managed to get to (exactly) a point per possession.  But the inability to score around the basket prevented them from keeping up with Purdue's offensive onslaught.  Draymond Green, Raymar Morgan, and Delvon Roe combined to shoot 3 for 23 from the field.  Green was completely out of whack shooting the ball (1-13) and Morgan and Roe were flummoxed by Johnson's presence inside, climaxing in Morgan's missed dunk from under the basket.

There were, I thought, three bright spots on offense (in addition to Lucas looking much closer to 100% than expected):

  • Korie Lucious bounced back from his horrid showing in Champaign to make some solid plays in this game.  9 points, 2 assists, 1 turnover, and 2 steals.  He didn't force passes to the wings like he did against Illinois, and he played some great extended defense, scoring two break away layups off the steals.  Unfortunately, he also blew a fast break opportunity that killed some momentum MSU had going.
  • I give credit to Delvon Roe for adjusting his game after it became clear he couldn't score against Johnson in the first half.  In the second half, he looked to pass out of the post, picking up 2 assists on passes to shooters beyond the 3-point arc.  Also picked a good spot to attack the rim for a 3-point play to pull MSU within 10.
  • Chris Allen was the only reason MSU even had a chance to claw its way back within striking distance in the second half.  21 points on 13 FG attempts.  Maybe, must maybe, playing without Lucas as the offensive go-to guy for a couple games has finally pushed Allen over the top toward becoming a second reliable perimeter scorer.

I'm going to assume that Durrell Summers' second-half benching was a result of defensive breakdowns.  He was ineffective on offense in the first half, but not distastrously so: 2 missed shots, 2 offensive rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover.

Tom Izzo said this was the best crowd at Breslin in a couple years.  I think he was exaggerating a little bit, but the crowd was definitely a boost when the team finally got things going late in the game.  The absolute low point of the game came at one point in the early part of the second half when the Breslin staff put up the 300 "hoo, hoo, hoo" clip on the video screen to try to get the crowd going a little bit.  Except they started it too late and had to cut out just as Gerard Butler was yelling, "Spar-."  MSU then proceeded to turn the ball over when Allen took the ball down the court--despite the presence of both Lucas and Lucious in the lineup--and misdribbled it as he crossed the halfcourt line to turn the ball over.

We can only hope that that moment was the worst moment in what will turn out to be the worst game of the season. The three teams now tied with us (in the loss column) at the top of the Big Ten standings all picked up their three losses in quick succession (3-game losing streaks for Purdue and Illinois, 3 losses in 4 games for Ohio State).  The question is whether MSU can bounce back from their losses the way those three teams did.  With Wisconsin now looking human--but still in the best position of any 5th-place team in the country--the Big Ten race promises to be one heckuva scrum coming down the home stretch (blogging at 1:30 a.m. = mixed sports metaphors).

Time to start thinking optimistically, I say.  After as gruesome a three-game stretch as we've seen in a long time, we remain in position to control our own destiny for winning at least a share of the conference title.  SpartanDan:

We didn’t win the first nine by accident, and there’s no way we lose all of the last three with a healthy Lucas. Won’t be easy – our margin for error is totally gone – but 5-1 is still possible and that would get us a share (unless you think Purdue or OSU is winning out, and I don’t). If we can remember how to defend – we weren’t anywhere near this bad at it earlier – we can get there.

Next up: A road trip to take on winless Penn State.  Saturday at noon.  ESPN.