The most exhausting Michigan State basketball season in memory ends in quite possibly the most exhausting manner possible.
From the beginning: It turns out that a defense designed to funnel players into the lane and block shots, without fouling a lot in the process, matches up quite nicely with an offense that's highly reliant on a point guard whose primary instinct is to drive the lane looking for shots around the rim and/or opportunities at the free throw line. Game preview FAIL.
The final game of Kalin Lucas's Spartan career ended without about as dismal an individual performance as you could have predicted. Lucas finished the game with 11 points, but it was well into the second half before he was even on the scoreboard. He shot just 4-14 from the field and turned the ball over 4 times. This game should do nothing to detract from the individual and team accomplishments Lucas posted during his time at MSU, but I'm sure it will be a while before that's of any comfort to him.
Meanwhile, in a development that is very nearly the definition of irony, Durrell Summers was the only MSU player who could buy a basket early on. In the first half, Summers converted 5 of 9 field goal attempts, while the rest of the roster shot just 3-19 from the field. Unfortunately, Summers couldn't keep it going, scoring only 3 points in the second half to finish with 12 for the game.
Draymond Green was the closest thing to a consistent offensive factor for MSU, posting the second triple-double of his career (based on this box score, at least): 23 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists. He spearheaded the 22-point comeback over the game's final 8 minutes to draw MSU within one point with 4.4 seconds to go. Alas, it was a bridge just a tad too far.
I'm not going to do a full recap of individual player contributions--for the most part, the MSU reserves were simply overmatched by UCLA's size and athleticism--except to say: Delvon Roe (11 points, 2 blocks, 2 steals) looked spry, and Keith Appling (three 3-pointers late) was clutch. I look forward to what should be, knock on wood, a pain-free senior season for Roe and the full three seasons Appling has remaining as quite possibly the next in a series of great MSU guards.
UCLA was much more impressive than the team's numbers indicated they were coming into the game. Josh Smith overwhelmed the MSU big men when he was on the court, scoring 14 points on 5-7 FG shooting. Tyler Honeycutt, meanwhile, took advantage of his mismatch at the 3 spot, scoring 16 points on just 9 FGA and dishing out 5 assists. MSU evened the numbers out quite a bit by the end, but the Bruins were dominant on both the boards and on turnover margin for most of the game. UCLA came out as the much more aggressive, decisive, and composed team to start the game and, as a result, will advance to the next round of competition.
The fact that this season is over is a source of frustration and relief all at the same time. The lack of quit exhibited by the team eases the sting some; it also provides a final, haunting demonstration of how good the team could be when it was able to shed the burden of expectations and play the game with energy and a sense of excitement.
It's apropos, I suppose: A team that disappointed relative to preseason expectations for an entire season but never quit completely on that season disappointed but didn't quit in the final game of that season.
But just because you don't quit doesn't mean the season doesn't end.