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Recap: Veterans' Night

(Don't mean to disrespect or trivialize the work of our troops. Just thought the term fit the storyline of the game. The timing is coincidental)

Lol, Costello.
Lol, Costello.
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

It was a tale of two halves, and depending on your narrative, you were right for one of them.

MSU raced out to a 10-0 lead and led by as much as 15 in the first half. It was the experienced Spartans playing composed and dominating Kentucky's young guns who looked like they'd never seen a defense nor ever played together before. MSU led 44-32 at half, but it should have been more.

In the second half, Kentucky's talent took over, along with whistles. MSU was brutal offensively, and Kentucky kept overpowering MSU inside, but the Wildcats were missing free throws. They probably should have led at some point, but they didn't, only coming close as a tie, and a tip-in from Brandon Dawson with seconds remaining sealed a 78-74 MSU win.


It is MSU's fourth-ever win over No. 1 (Indiana State, 1979; Wisconsin, 2007; Louisville, 2009) and the second in the regular season. Assuming MSU takes care of Columbia at home on Friday, MSU will assume the No. 1 spot in the polls for the first time since 2001.

This one mattered to Izzo. A lot. He said MSU was a winner for even being a part of the Champions Classic, but to take down No. 1 with all that recruiting hype, this was big, and he was going to enjoy it.

Did Kentucky play its best game? No. But MSU didn't either, and all its big men were dealing with foul trouble. Even experienced teams like MSU will still need to mold into form. MSU was the better team. Most of the storylines are about what Kentucky did wrong, but that's how things go when you're Kentucky. Don't worry about disrespect, MSU fans, you're going to be No. 1.

It was the 40th matchup of No. 1 and No. 2. This was a showcase, and MSU shined bright.

If you're interested in any 40-0 shirts, Kentucky doesn't need them anymore.

Four factors

Will be here when they're available, along with some more comments.

Based on the box score, Kentucky grabbed 45 percent of its misses, which is an insane number against any MSU team. Part of this was because of MSU foul trouble, but most of this was Kentucky simply being a bigger and more athletic team. MSU isn't going to be in a mismatch like that very often. MSU rebounded 27 percent of its misses, which is not all that good.

If the Wildcats could make free throws, they may have won this one. Kentucky went 20-for-36 at the line. A number of times, MSU turned a missed free throw into a transition bucket on the other end, so that's a big swing. On the topic of fouls, I understand they want to get rid of hand-checks, and if the officiating is consistent with that, fine, but it seemed to me that they were so focused on the little stuff that they missed some obvious calls and body checks. We'll see how this plays out as the year goes on. I'd like to see them move to six fouls. That way, cheap defense is still discouraged, but the game isn't determined by whose stars stay out of foul trouble.

The biggest story was turnover. Kentucky had 17 and MSU had 7. MSU overcoming a rebounding deficit by winning the turnover battle. What world is this? Kentucky tied the game with 4:48 to go, but Appling answered with a #KeithAppling3PointSighting, Harris got a steal and a bucket, and that was Kentucky's last chance.

MSU finally proved it could run on a national stage, with a 21-2 edge in transition points. Now, part of this was because UK had no interest in transition defense, but the point was made. MSU can and will run when it's there.

Player breakdown

- Keith Appling: It has to start here. In a game full of future NBA first-rounders, Appling had 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting, seven assists, seven rebounds, four steals and three turnovers. Is it possible to be overlooked with those numbers? Because it sure felt like it. Appling doesn't need to be the No. 1 option on this team, and he did an almost-perfect job of playing within himself against guards much bigger than him. Appling was great against Kansas in the CC last year, so we'll see if he can keep it up this season. On a night of shining freshmen, the senior had perhaps the most complete performance in Chicago.

- Branden Dawson: Another guy making an impression on scouts surrounded by NBA players. Dawson had eight points, eight rebounds (two offensive, including clincher), four steals, one assist and one turnover. But what was most impressive was his defense. His athleticism is back, and when MSU's bigs got in foul trouble, Dawson was often matched up with stud Kentucky forward Julius Randle. Dawson held his own, especially in the first half. Another guy that played within himself (4-for-9 shooting) and one that MSU will want consistency out of in terms of taking care of the ball and playing defense.

- Gary Harris: Looked like a lottery pick in the first half, going 5-for-7 with 15 points. But he went 2-for-7 for five points in the second. Most of Harris' points came in transition, and played tremendous defense all night. The knock on Harris is his size, but that was no matter in the first half. A healthy Gary Harris is a very, very good Gary Harris.

- Adreian Payne: It seems to often be the case, but when Payne wasn't in foul trouble, he looked like a first-rounder. He finished with 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting, four rebounds and one block. He also played great defense on Randle in the first half, but once he got in foul trouble, Randle started going to work. Payne showed flashes of his athletic ability against some great athletes. It's too bad he wasn't able to show it more.

- Denzel Valentine: Played some good defense. Finished with five points on 2-for-8 shooting with some ill-advised shots. Had just one rebound, but also five assists and two steals to one turnover.

- Matt Costello: Another guy who was playing good defense before foul trouble. Four rebounds, two on both ends, and two points on 1-for-4 shooting. He looked weak and skittish on offense early, like last year, but played a lot stronger in the second and had some good moves. Provided an important spark in the second half. Won't be going up against athletes like that very often.

- Alex Gauna: With all of MSU's bigs in foul trouble, Gauna played big minutes out of necessity. Unfortunately, what has plagued him in the past was present again: getting beat on the glass. Time after time, Kentucky's athletes beat him for offensive rebounds. Gauna did have four points on 2-for-2, but recorded just rebound in 13 minutes. That's really bad. You hate to keep ragging on a kid, but he's going to be needed next year, and he might get passed by Gavin Schilling if this keeps up.

Gavin Schilling: Was physically outmatched, but battled at times. He'll improve.

- Travis Trice: Against the big Wildcats, Trice wasn't a good matchup to put on the floor very much. He finished with two points on 1-for-2 shooting in 15 minutes. Yes, he made a two-point shot.


It was clear MSU came in with a chip on its shoulder. This game was motivation for the entire offseason. Now, let's see how they respond with the biggest of targets on their backs. MSU's next two games are Columbia and Portland State at home before heading to Brooklyn to face Virginia Tech and Oklahoma/Seton Hall. The Big Ten/ACC Challenge game against North Carolina is on Dec. 4.

MSU just took the No. 1 ranking on one of the biggest regular season stages. For MSU in the regular season, you don't say this much, but this was a program win.