Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was able to achieve his 903rd career win with a victory over Michigan State Tuesday night, passing Bob Knight for first place in the all-time Division I coaching ranks. After a close and reasonably entertaining first half the Madison Square Garden officials, perhaps worried about Coach K possibly failing to notch the requisite win on national television, welded an iron lid onto MSU's basket and didn't remove it until the outlook was no longer in doubt
With the score at 41-40 in Duke's favor the welding crew was sent out to install the lid. Duke used this advantage to push their lead to 53-40 when the lid was briefly removed so that Keith Appling could shoot free-throws after a technical foul on Miles Plumlee. The lid was then reattached until Michigan State called time out with 9:12 left in the game and Duke leading 61-41 and the game effectively over.
In all seriousness, after almost 2 minutes had been played in the second half, the score was tied at 36-36. What followed was one of the worst stretches of basketball I've ever seen a Michigan State team play. By the time it was over Duke had their 20-point lead and, as in last year's game, their attempts to squander the lead in horrifying fashion fell short and they ended up settling for a 5-point blowout.
The Spartans actually played fairly well in the first half, opening up a 6-point lead at about the midway point. They were shooting fairly well and controlling the paint, getting a number of second-chance points and limiting Duke's. But turnovers were already becoming a problem and the unconscious three-point shooting of Andre Dawkins enabled Duke to retake the lead before a pretty floater by Brandon Wood just before the buzzer pulled MSU to within one at the break.
Dawkins continued his hot shooting in the second half and was joined by his backcourt partner Seth Curry, who finished with 20 points, half of them from the line. Duke also tightened things up in the paint as well, led by the Plumlees and Ryan Kelly, frequently limiting MSU to one shot on the many occasions they missed. Keith Appling took over in the last 2:13, scoring 11 of his 22 points, but it wasn't enough. Dawkins, by the way, can join the long line of players who emerged from relative obscurity to have a career game against the Spartans. Dawkins sported a 14.4% usage rate last year, just escaping Ken Pomeroy's "nearly invisible" category and he had scored a combined 10 points in Duke's first two games. He ended up with 26, including 6-10 from three, only the third time in his career the junior had scored as many as 20.
As Chris Vannini and others have pointed out, this marks the third straight game (going back to last year's tournament game with UCLA) that MSU has done a faceplant to fall at least 20 points down, only to cut it to single-digits by the end. Those rallies may be concealing a serious problem. If MSU is going to go through 8 minute stretches of complete inability to score on a regular basis, there may be a lot of long and painful games in store for this season.
The big question for this team was always going to be offense and, after two games, that question remains. The worst part of Tuesday night's game was that the team went cold from close range, rather than from beyond the arc as in the North Carolina game and the two exhibitions. Keith Appling, Brandon Wood and Travis Trice actually posted an excellent shooting line of .706/.500/.880 (2pt%/3pt%/FT%). Unfortunately, Draymond Green, Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix combined to shoot 6-21 (21%) from two and Green chipped in another 0-4 from three-point range. This poor shooting combined with a lack of discipline at both ends (21 turnovers and 29 fouls leading to 41 Duke foul shots) was too much for the Spartans to overcome, even with Duke getting sloppy towards the end.
The four factors chart and further analysis after the jump.
This was a 75-possession game, a pace that was somewhat inflated by the high rate of turnovers by both teams. The MSU defense did manage to hold Duke to just under a point per possession but there were some obvious issues. The really tall blue bar on the right is the Duke free-throw rate. In this game the Blue Devils actually attempted 2 more foul shots than field goals - and made more than twice as many as the Spartans attempted, though ten of them were in the last 3 minutes of the game. There's a right way and a wrong way to play physical basketball. By playing defense with their hands instead of their feet, failing to help in the post and generally acting frustrated (Derrick Nix) MSU made it easy for the referees to switch to auto-pilot when making the calls.
Winning the battle on the offensive boards, as the Spartans did, can erase a lot of sins, but if you shoot poorly AND commit a lot of turnovers AND constantly send your opponent to the line no amount of offensive rebounds is going to save you.
On the plus side of the ledger, Brandon Wood continued his emergence and played a reasonably effective 26 minutes scoring 15 points on 12 shots with 2 assists and 2 boards. Branden Dawson chipped in 9 points and 3 rebounds in his 27 minutes.
Point guard continues to be an issue as Keith Appling and Travis Trice combined for 5 turnovers and no assists. Assists in general were a scarce commodity and MSU had only 8 of them on 26 made field goals. Draymond Green tried to pick up the slack but only managed 2 assists against 5 turnovers and he needed 15 shots to record his ten points.
With the less-brutal portion of the non-conference schedule coming up, MSU's mission remains clear: offense. Three-point shooting is 6-32 after two games and they are not running plays effectively, with an assist percentage of 36.4 - they haven't been below 58% for a year since at least 2003. This has led to an effective field goal percentage of 38.9% Granted this has come against two of the top programs in the country, but they'll need to begin stepping it up ASAP. Texas Southern awaits.