Michigan State performed what could fairly be called a "hurtin’" on the court today, beating Eastern Michigan 72-40. Despite my best attempt to manufacture drama and Con-T’s reminder about the greater powers of the MAC, Eastern didn’t have the firepower to overcome Michigan State’s defense, athleticism, and ball movement. Michigan State regained a double-digit lead with five minutes left in the second half and held it for the rest of the game. An 8-2 run would help EMU pull within 13 in the second half but that was as close as it would be.
Michigan State continues to rely on two staples that will help the team win many games this year – defense and rebounding. Eastern Michigan came into the game averaging just a flea’s whisker over 40% in field goal percentage and MSU held them to 28.6%. EMU did themselves no favors by going 5-13 when sent to the line. Six different Spartans registered a block and that checks with what was overall a solid effort of team defense. There was still a mix-up or two typical of this new squad but it looks like MSU continues to defend well enough to keep them in most games. The head man himself came away pleased. Tom Izzo said after the game, "I've been so impressed with us defensively, and I'm never impressed with us defensively."
Off the glass, Draymond Green has established himself as an elite rebounder and pulled down 13 today. That’s his fourth time in double-digits in a season that started with 18 against North Carolina. Adreian Payne was the other big help with 8. If you scan the box score, it reveals a team-wide rebounding effort. Everyone who saw time was credited with a rebound and 10 Spartans got at least 2 for a total of 45 against the Eagle’s 25.
Four Factors and player bullets after the jump...
To fill in blanks, the Four Factors graph does a good job of expressing this one. As is usually the case, MSU was not outstanding in terms of taking care of the basketball. In that stat, EMU and MSU were close. Until something drastically changes, that reality (as they say) "lives here." However, in the other facets of the game, MSU dominated. They shot the ball above their average (tempo-free or raw), attacked the boards, and scored FTs effectively. It was especially nice to see those freebies fall.
- Keith Appling – After the game, Keith Appling received some high praise from Coach Izzo – "Keith pushed the ball as well as anybody has pushed it maybe since Mateen Cleaves." Rumors of Keith’s demise as the primary point guard and move off the ball may have been premature. There were moments this afternoon when he was unstoppable. Appling drove to the basket with flash and finished consistently. He did all this while never turning the ball over and getting five assists. Keith also shook off his free throw problems and hit 5 of 6. As we all know, Appling is one of the major factors who could elevate this team to a higher level. Tonight was another step.
- Draymond Green – I like basketball-to-football comparisons. Green reminds me of Kirk Cousins a bit, too. He’s firmly established himself as a leader, playmaker, and vital part of the team. Perfect? No (0/2 from 3, 2 TOs), but if you’re not convinced yet, you never will be.
- Adreian Payne – Our other sophomore is connected with Keith Appling in that his success could either push MSU to another level of play or help hold it back. If you allow that this is only the beginning of his sophomore season, I’m continually encouraged by Payne’s performance. Adreian was banged around a bit today and showed the effects of having to fight for his rebounds but he still grabbed 8. His play on offense was efficient, scoring 12, and we’re seeing less and less of those moments where Payne turns into a lost defensive liability. It’s a toss-up between a handful of players right now but could AP emerge as the #3 scorer behind Green and Appling? The over-enthusiastic fan in me is starting to see the first inklings of a player who could be an early entrant to the draft.
- Alex Gauna - Wow, I whiffed on this one. I thought this would be a good match-up for No. 2 but he didn't make an appearance until the game was out of reach. It appears that Gauna is falling victim right now to MSU's tightening bench. Unless there's foul trouble or the perfect opponent, Alex is out of the regular rotation.
- Russell Byrd - In contrast to Gauna, Izzo seems dedicated to keeping Byrd going and finding a spot for him. Byrd received double-digit minutes for the second time this season, again playing some on the wing and some in the post. This isn't surprising as the team continues to struggle from outside and Izzo looks for more offensive output from the wing. His single three of the day was a reminder of how sweet it can look when everything is clicking.
The next game is the Big Ten-ACC challenge against Florida State. MSU's defense is strong enough to keep them in any contest but can they find the points of their own? How are you feeling about Wednesday? At home, I think MSU gets out with a win.