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Evading the Plot Twist: Michigan State 65, Northwestern 62

Well, let's get the officiating thing out of the way.  Despite being a distinctly perimeter-oriented team, Northwestern had a 24 to 5 advantage in free throw attempts tonight.  That edge resulted from a combination of (1) MSU scoring a lot of easy, uncontested baskets around the hoop, (2) Spartan defenders not ceding any ground to Northwestern ball-handlers when they attempted to drive inside the 3-point arc, and, yes, (3) some very suspect and inconsistent officiating.  MSU was called for a number of fouls on what looked like clean swipes at the ball, while the Wildcats got the benefit of the doubt on several close calls.  (At one point, what appeared to be a foul clearly called in favor of Durrell Summers was then mysteriously waved off.)

Still, despite the pro-Wildcat edge at the free throw line, MSU led this game by 13 points with three and a half minutes to go.  At that point, I was ready to call the game an unqualified success.  MSU had shot the ball efficiently from the field, prevented easy baskets by Northwestern around the hoop, dominated the boards, and avoided an explosion of turnovers.  Before Northwestern's late run, MSU had outscored the Wildcats by 28 points from the field.

Then the run happened.  Northwestern, led by Michael Thompson, scored 12 unanswered points to get within one point with 30 seconds left.  The primary culprit for MSU was simply missed free throws.  Missing all three of the one-and-one front-ends a team can be faced with in one half of a college basketball game is as solid a formula as you can find for blowing a double-digit lead.

The second problem was an inability to break down the 1-3-1 zone, which Bill Carmody had used sparingly until late in the game.  I actually didn't mind the more aggressive plays against the zone; you can't sit on the ball against that variation of the zone because it's so hard to manufacture a decent shot late in the clock. Unfortunately, the shots didn't fall and the passes didn't find their targets.  Also, one demerit for Tom Izzo, who called a timeout as Draymond Green was initiating a sequence that looked like it was going to lead to a layup with over two minutes to go.

This was roughly a 64-possession game, so neither team was terribly spectacular on either end of the court over the full game.  MSU's efficiency numbers would, of course, look pretty good if you only counted the first 36 minutes of the game.  MSU turned it over on 22% of its possessions, but had a 41%-to-30% advantage on the boards.  Combined with 55% 2-point shooting and 33% 3-point shooting, that was enough to procure the win.  (The StatSheet box score hasn't loaded yet and I need to go to bed, so you'll have to wait until the morning for the four-factor graph.)  [Update: Whoop, there it is.]


In terms of individual players, the major contributors all basically did what they're expected to, albeit with some hiccups along the way:

  • Draymond came out aggressively, getting to 10 points very quickly by attacking the basket in the first half.  He ended the game with 15, the last 2 of them coming on the huge offensive rebound to bail the team out after Lucas missed a free throw with 14 seconds left and MSU up only 1 point.  He also had 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks, and 5 turnovers.  That's 8 turnovers for Green in the first two Big Ten games.  One senses he feels pressure to create a lot of offense for the team, given the early-season struggles on offense.  He'll need to dial it back just a little bit and allow other guys to make some plays as conference play goes along.
  • Kalin Lucas started slow but finished with 12 points (on 6-13 shooting) and 3 assists.  He still doesn't have his old explosiveness around the rim, but compensated with some midrange makes tonight.  The ankle sprain he suffered late in the game, which had him limping noticeably, is a significant concern going forward.  Thankfully, the team has four full days off before the next game.
  • Durrell Summers knocked down the three (4-9) but struggled taking the ball to the hole (0-5 on twos).
  • Delvon Roe continued his run of very assertive play on the boards, posting 10 rebounds (8 on defense).  He has 28 boards in the last 3 games now.  Also, he drew the initial assignment on John Shurna and acquitted himself well (as he had when matched up with Jordan Hamilton vs. Texas).
  • Keith Appling had something of a breakout game.  He came out shooting the ball with confidence and ended up scoring 8 points on 2-4 three-point shooting.  That's a good sign, considering that he's seemed hesitant to shoot after missing some early shots in recent games.  He also rebounded very well (5 boards) and was probably MSU's best defender, posting an absurd-for-a-6-foot-guard 5 blocked shots.  This is exactly the kind of game Izzo will need more of from Appling down the stretch if MSU is to achieve conference and/or NCAA success.
  • Korie Lucious was . . . Korie Lucious: 5 assists vs. 3 turnovers.  He couldn't knock down the three, but did hit a couple nice-looking pull-up jumpers off the dribble.
  • Austin Thornton, Adreian Payne, and Garrick Sherman all made the kinds of limited contributions they each tend to contribute.  Thornton pulled down 2 rebounds. Payne blocked 2 shots.  Sherman was active looking for the ball in the post early, but the Northwestern defense wasn't very accommodating.  He did have 2 assists, one of which was a very nice cross-court look for a 3-pointer.
  • Mike Kebler appeared briefly.  Derrick Nix didn't play, presumably due to the versatile nature of the Northwestern lineup, against which his girth would have been a substantial liability on defense.

For Northwestern, Shurna was clearly limited by his ankle injury.  He made just one shot from the field.  Thompson and Drew Crawford scored in spurts (Thompson's spurt came late, Crawford's was early in the second half), but neither was all that efficient over the full game, combining for 29 points on 29 FGA.  The Wildcats stayed in it by knocking down 10 of 24 three-pointers (plus 16 of 24 shots at the line), but that wasn't enough to overcome 8-34 shooting (24% [!]) inside the arc.  With Shurna hobbled, Bill Carmody didn't have a number he could call for any kind of consistent scoring around the basket.

Bottom line: It's a road win against a fairly dangerous opponent, and we'll take it.  It would have been nice not to throw away all the style points at the end, but that's of course much preferable to throwing away the game entirely.

Next Up: The Spartans will take the rest of the week to catch their breath and prepare for another road game against a fairly dangerous opponent.  At Penn State on Saturday.  1:00 on BTN.