Normally, by the time a Michigan State basketball game gets to halftime, I wonder why I bothered spending an hour writing the game preview. In most games, very little goes according to plan.
But this time, I have no choice but to say . . . "Naaailed it!"
Game planning for Purdue has become an easier task for Tom Izzo. He'll be able to devote more resources to compensating for the height mismatch Johnson has against the MSU big men and try to force the non-Johnson/Moore/Grant Boilermakers to beat us.
The MSU defenders did everything they could to keep JaJuan Johnson and E`Twaun Moore from getting into a rhythm, forcing them to take shots outside their normal comfort range. Johnson and Moore combined to shoot just 7-27 from the field, Keaton Grant (7 points on 3 FGA) never exerted himself, and the Boilermaker role players couldn't fill the void. Lewis Jackson, Kelsey Barlow, Patrick Bade, and John Hart combined for just one made field goal on 12 attempts--not to mention just one made free throw on 5 attempts, helping to negate Purdue's advantage in trips to the free throw line.
Purdue's best offense was Chris Kramer (11 points) on breakaways off turnovers. But MSU also took advantage of Kramer's offensive impotence, forcing him into 5 turnovers of his own.
Robbie Hummel's absence certainly hurt Matt Painter's squad, as the Purdue offense lacked the continuity Hummel's ball-handling and shooting skills provide. Nevertheless, holding the 21st most efficient offensive team in the country to fewer than 0.70 points per possession is a rare achievement.
Purdue's turnover creation numbers are down a tad this season, but you can expect them to exert even more energy trying to wreak havoc on the MSU offense in an attempt to compensate for not having Hummel in the lineup.
MSU turned the ball over 23 times in 64 possessions, for a whopping turnover percentage of 35.9%. The Purdue defenders harassed the MSU guards for a full 40 minutes, holding Kalin Lucas, Chris Allen, Durrell Summers, and Korie Lucious to a combined 18 points on 22 FGA and forcing them into 15 of MSU's 23 turnovers (vs. just 5 assists). Let's hope we don't see another set of guard that can swarm anything like Purdue's can the rest of this season.
The second goal on offense will be to take advantage of the mismatch that now runs in the other direction at the 4 spot, which will be manned for Purdue by either the inexperienced Bade or the undersized Kramer. In the first MSU-Purdue game, Draymond Green, Raymar Morgan, and Delvon Roe combined to make just 3 of 23 shots from the field. That shooting percentage needs to go up dramatically.
Mission accomplished. Green, Morgan, and Derrick Nix combined for 35 points on 15-27 FG shooting. MSU made a concerted effort to get the ball inside. Some turnovers resulted, but for the most part the Spartan big men were able to take advantage of Purdue's lack of size/experience inside. As bad as 53 points in 64 possessions looks like for a winning team, 53 points on 41 turnoverless possessions looks pretty good. It was just a matter of getting the ball somewhere near the lane.
Hummel's absence also means Purdue will be playing without its best defensive rebounder. Spartan dominance on the offensive glass will be a prerequisite to a victory.
There were 30 opportunities to grab rebounds off missed MSU shots in today's game. A player in green came down with 16 of them. Five different MSU players had at least 2 offensive rebounds, led by Morgan with 5. The term "warriorlike" is only a slight exaggeration in terms of the effort the Spartans put forth on the glass today. And that statement applies on both ends of the court; Purdue had just 6 offensive rebounds in 36 opportunities. We'll forgive Draymond Green for citing the #unicornstat:
"We outrebounded them by 26! 26!"
Add it all up and you get this fairly bizarre looking bar graph:
The predicted positives outweighed the predicted negatives, but it took one heck of an effort to make that happen.
- When Raymar Morgan's career concludes at some time in the next 5 weeks and people spend a lot of time talking about how enigmatic he was during his 4 years on campus, remember this game. Morgan almost single-handedly kept MSU in the game in the first half by hustling for rebounds and finding ways to score around the basket. 16 points on 9 FGA, 11 rebounds. A senior performance by a senior player.
- Draymond Green picked up 2 fouls early and was a nonfactor in the first half. But he showed up in a major way in the second half, scoring all 8 of MSU's points over a 10-minute timespan that ended with the Spartans up by 6 with 80 seconds to go in the game. I don't think there's another team in the country that would feed the ball to its 6'6" power forward against the 6'11" JaJuan Johnson on nearly every possession in crunch time. 12 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals for Day Day.
- Kalin Lucas did not have it tonight: 8 points, 1 assist (very late), and 8 turnovers. Lucas' one offensive weakness has always been that he doesn't pass the ball off much when he drives the lane. Against most opponents, it's not a problem because Lucas is good enough to get all the way to the rim or find space for a mid-range jumper. The Boilermakers took advantage of that tendency, though, closing in on Lucas when he got into the lane and forcing him into a bunch of bad passes.
- Korie Lucious is in a bad, bad place mentally. His jumpshot has gone completely missing (0-4). He was flustered quite a bit by the Purdue ball pressure, but kept things together just enough (2 assists, 3 TOs) to give MSU a chance.
- Chris Allen could not find space to get his jumpshot off all night, scoring just 2 points (both on free throws). But give him credit for solid ball-handling (2 assists, 1 turnover) and tremendous hustle on loose balls (8 rebounds, 6 of them on defense).
- Durrell Summers was pretty out of whack most of the night, but he was also the only Spartan to make a 3-pointer all game, knocking down two of them in the first 10 minutes of the second half to help maintain the lead MSU took shortly after halftime. A performance to build on? Doesn't sound like the ankle injury was anything serious.
- To quote Con-T, "Despite the absurdity of the technical, the dominant big man on the floor has been Nix." Derrick Nix came out strong against Johnson, scoring MSU's first basket and assisting on the second. Nix finished the game with 7 points and 2 rebounds in 9 minutes, and helped set the tone in terms of playing aggressive defense to force Johnson outside his comfort zone. (Izzo on the technical: "He played a lot of basketball at St. Cecilia Church (in Detroit) and that’s what they do there. I told him that that gym holds about 11 people and there’s 15,000 here so understand the difference.")
- Delvon Roe's minutes were limited tonight, perhaps due to the ongoing knee issue. He made some key plays on defense, though, posting 2 blocks and a steal in 10 minutes.
- Austin Thornton, Garrick Sherman, and Mike Kebler combined for 4 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, and zero turnovers in 10 minutes. We'll take it.
One final stat: MSU had 4 blocked shots in this game. Purdue had zero. OK, one more stat: Morgan and Green together had just one fewer made 2-point basket than the entire Purdue team (12 vs. 13).
That's playing big in a big game. The result is these up-to-the-minute Big Ten standings:
By the by, that's 15-3 on the road in two seasons of Big Ten play. Not bad.
Next up: Two home games that still must be won if back-to-back Big Ten championship banners are to hang from the Breslin Center rafters. The first is against a resurgent Penn State team that's won 3 of its last 4 games (Thursday at 7:00; ESPN). Win that one and maybe another Friday night sleepover is in order before the regular season finale vs. Michigan on Sunday.