It was far from perfect, it wasn't pretty, but in the end Michigan State proved to have just enough to withstand a late Georgia run in a 70-63 win to move on to the Round of 32.
In a physical game in which nothing in close proved easy or a gimmie, the Spartans showed they had a little more ability in transition, a little more long-distance shooting ability, got enough from the bench, got enough from Travis Trice in the first half, enough from Branden Dawson in the second half, and then had Denzel Valentine at the foul line down the stretch when needed.
Georgia opened up strong and were erasing the Spartans from the boards early, but the Spartans bench came out to battle on the glass and MSU helped Georgia into 10 first half turnovers, which included 6 steals, to go on a 25-8 run to finish the half and take a 13-point lead into the locker room.
Georgia stopped turning the ball over and worked their way back to cut the Spartan lead down to only two, at 39-37, with just over 14 minutes to play. The Spartans then rebuilt their lead led by Branden Dawson, who, playing with 3 fouls, scored 8 points over a two-minute stretch so that with 10 minutes to play MSU held an 8-point lead that would grow to as many as a 13-point lead after a Bryn Forbes 4-point play at the 7:20 mark.
As has happened far too often this season though, MSU refused to make it easy on themselves, and allowed Georgia to go on a late 8-0 run over a 50-second stretch which took the Spartans lead all the way down to a one possession game, a three-point lead, with 28 seconds to play. Having struggled from the foul line in the game (5 for 13 until Valentine's free throws), and then, all season, MSU was able to get the ball to Denzel Valentine who accepted the challenge and stepped to the foul line three times where he shot a confident and perfect 6 for 6 from, what should be, the charity stripe to help MSU finally put away the Bulldogs.
Keys to the Game:
1) The Bench: MSU was getting handled on the boards by Georgia but with Branden Dawson and Gavin Schilling both picking up their second fouls, Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman, stepped up to give the Spartans 9 rebounds in the first half which included 6 first half rebounds by Costello, and 3 first half rebounds from Wollenman which included an offensive rebound of a Tum Tum Nairn free throw miss that led to a Denzel Valentine three pointer. The Spartans were out-rebounded by Georgia, 43-35, but the Spartans bench gave MSU a fighting chance on the boards and provided 15 of the 35 Spartan rebounds by game's end. The Spartans also got 22 bench points led by Bryn Forbes who scored 14 and hit 3 three pointers, and Marvin Clark Jr. who scored 6 points in the first half.
2) Physicality and Defense: The Spartans forced 10 first half Georgia turnovers and worked to make Georgia work hard for easy buckets down low. On the game, MSU held Georgia to only 33% from the field and to only 4 of 14 on their three-point attempts.
3) The Three Amigos: It was Trice in the first half, Dawson in the second, and Valentine with free throws down the stretch. Travis Trice scored 12 of his 16 points in the first half. Branden Dawson picked up his second foul just five minutes and thirty seconds into the game. Dawson sat out the rest of the half. Dawson then picked up his third foul at the 16:14 mark of the second half, but then Dawson, playing with 3 fouls, turned up his game and scored 12 of his 14 points in the final 12 minutes. Denzel Valentine was feeling the ire of Izzo throughout the game with his decision making, but his perfect 6 for 6 performance from the free throw line helped put the game away for the Spartans. As a group, "The Three Amigos" provided 45 points, 15 rebounds, 13 assists, 4 steals, and 2 blocks.
4) Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman: Gavin Schilling picked up two fouls in the first half and in his 4 minutes was a non-factor. Matt Costello stepped up to play 29 minutes, and though he was unable to finish around the rim, (shooting 1 of 8 on the game with a dunk his only field goal), Costello's rebounding and defensive presence, along with at least the the threat of some offense, was needed. Costello picked up his third foul at the 14:46 mark but then stayed on the court for nearly 4 minutes before taking a seat. Costello, then, didn't pick up his 4th foul until the 2:48 mark. Costello led the Spartan rebounding effort with 7 boards. Colby Wollenman's 11 minutes and 5 rebounds, including 2 offensive rebounds, was a needed surprise for a Spartans team that was getting handled on the glass.
5) An all-around effort from Bryn Forbes: Bryn Forbes not only provided a needed 14 points off the bench which included 3, three pointers to include a four-point play, but Forbes defense, especially his help defense, continues to improve. Forbes strong play kept him on the court for 23 minutes.
6) The Jr.'s from Sunrise: Tum Tum Nairn Jr. provided his typical plus effort, solid defense, and used his speed to pick up two steals, one for an Izzo-style 2-point TD, 3 points on the game, 3 assists, and 3 rebounds, and picked up two fouls on Georgia. Marvin Clark Jr. came off the bench with Branden Dawson in foul trouble in the first half and scored 6 points, grabbed a rebound, and used an extra effort to cause a Georgia dribble-off-the-leg turnover.
And so, March-ing On
MSU now waits to see who their Round of 32 opponent will be as #2 seed Virginia battles #15 seed Belmont. Stay tuned to TOC to see who the Spartans will meet and how they will match-up.