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A Tale of Three Point Guards: Michigan State 65, Penn State 54

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Point Guard #1: Talor Battle must wake up the morning before every game he plays against Michigan State feeling like he has super powers.  Battle is now 21 for 43 from 3-point range in 5 career games career against MSU.  It's only an exaggeration from a purely mathematical standpoint to say that Talor Battle WAS the Penn State offense today.  Battle had a direct hand in at least 40 of Penn State's 54 points today (30 points, 5 assists).  In table form:

2pt 3pt FT Pts Ast TO
Talor Battle 2-5 7-11 5-8 30 5 2
Other 8 Nittany Lions 5-13 4-15 2-4 24 7 9

 

All things considered, the MSU defense was pretty good today.  Despite Battle's long-distance shooting heroics, Penn State was held to just under a point per possession (56-possession game).  MSU forced a decent number of turnovers (19.6%) and allowed the Nittany Lions to grab only 4 rebounds in 30 opportunities.  The defensive intensity was generally much better today than it has been of late, with much smoother rotating/switching to pick up open men.  Perhaps the most encouraging sign was the 3 shot-clock violations they forced the Lions into.

 

For a minute there, though, it looked like Battle might single-handedly push Penn State over to the top to another upset win over MSU.  Which brings us to . . .

Point Guard #2:  Mike Kebler made the second meaningful appearance of his Spartan career today as a result of Korie Lucious failing to take care of academic responsibilities and not making the trip to Happy Valley (Rexrode guesses class skipping).  Kebler played a couple short stretches in the first half to handle the ball when Kalin Lucas needed a rest.  He played so well, though, that he got significant minutes in the second half even when Lucas was playing, staying on the court for a key 9-minute stretch.

In 18 career meaningful minutes, Kebler has yet to commit a turnover while posting 3 assists (plus a nicely-thrown lob pass to Durrell Summers on the fast break today that turned into 2 points at the free throw line).

Even more importantly:

Min 2pt 3pt FT Pts Ast TO
Kebler not on floor 27 1-3 7-9 5-8 28 4 1
Kebler on floor 10 1-2 0-2 0-0 2 1 1

 

The defense played by Lucas/Allen/Summers wasn't necessarily bad today--Battle made a lot of very difficult shots--but Mike Kebler was the one guy who seemed to be able to stay right in front of Battle on every possession.  Battle scored a point per minute when Kebler wasn't on the floor, but converted only one shot during the 10 minutes when Kebler was on the floor (and generally assigned to guarding Battle).

(I should point out that 9 of the 10 minutes for which both Kebler and Battle were on the floor came in the second half, when Battle may have been wearing down.  The 3 minutes Battle didn't play in this game came during the 4 minutes Kebler was on the court in the second half.)

Kebler may very well have earned himself 5-10 minutes per game of real playing time down the stretch here, at least against opponents with smaller lineups.  (Note to Tom Izzo: That lineup with Kebler, Austin Thornton, Garrick Sherman all on the floor didn't seem to work so well, though.)

As for the guy whose absence initially got Kebler on the court last week . . .

Point Guard #3: There are not many players in the country who can post a line like this while still recovering from a relatively serious ankle sprain: 24 points on 10-15 FG shooting, 6 assists, 1 turnover, 3 steals.  Lucas game out aggressively in this game, clearly to trying to show he was ready to be the main initiator on offense.  That went pretty well, as MSU posted 1.16 points per possession--their third best offensive showing of the Big Ten season.  They limited turnovers (16.1%) and got it done on the boards (37.5).  The failure to get to the free throw line is a mild concern, but 7-13 three-point shooting against quite a bit of zone defense was enough to get the job done in terms of scoring efficiency.

Non-point guard bullets:

  • Draymond Green didn't make a shot from the field today, scoring just 2 points on free throws.  Green is now 1-20 from the field over the past two games.  On the heels of his superb scoring performance vs. Illinois, his shooting touch has suddenly gone missing.  Per usual, though, he contributed in other ways: 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 turnover, 1 steal.
  • Raymar Morgan had another rough outing.  After a 5-game stretch in which Morgan made 32 of 42 FG attempts, he's made just 6 of 22 shots in his last 4 games.  In part, I think Morgan is struggling with how much he's being asked to play at the 4 spot.  By my calculations, 17 of his 26 minutes were played in one of the "big" spots today.  He had his shot blocked several times around the basket today, and wasn't able to get to the free throw line.  Playing limited minutes on the perimeter also means he's not getting a chance to get into a rhythm shooting from the outside, which seemed like a possibility after he made a long jumpshot to start the game.  I'm not trying to make excuses for Morgan, but I do think being the "tweener" up front makes thing tougher for him.
  • Delvon Roe, Derrick Nix, and Garrick Sherman combined for 12 points and 9 rebounds in 40 minutes.  We'll take it.
  • Durrell Summers played well in his return from Tuesday night's second-half benching.  He only had 9 points, but 7 of those came consecutively after Penn State had taken a 2-point lead with 12 minutes to go to put MSU back up by 5.
  • So far so good on Chris Allen-being-a-consistent-perimeter-threat plan.  14 points on 4-6 three-point shooting plus 3 assists.  That's 12-19 over the last 3 games if you're keeping score at home.

Up next: Another road game against a lower-tier Big Ten foe--Tuesday night in Bloomington (7:00, ESPN).  The three-game losing streak is over.  With Ohio State-Illinois tomorrow, Purdue-Ohio State on Wednesday, and Wisconsin-Minnesota on Thursday, a two-game winning streak would help MSU move back ahead of at least a couple teams in the current pack at the top of the conference standings.