The Michigan State Spartans finished up their regular season on Saturday afternoon, heading-on-down to Bloomington and, even without Branden Dawson, (out with concussion-like symptoms), built enough of a lead to hold on despite continuing team free throw woes.
If there's a match-up against a quality Big Team that favors MSU, it's the Indiana Hoosiers. The Hoosiers defense is more a lack of defense, the Hoosiers also lack a true post-scoring threat, and the Hoosiers both lack rebounding size and the team tenacity to hit the boards to make up for their lack of size.
With this Indiana team's lack of seeming effort and intensity, especially given what was on the line, it's easy to see why IU's AD had to give Tom Crean a vote of confidence this week...
One would think that Indiana would put out its best effort and be dialed in both being on the "bubble," and being at home for their final time this season, but that didn't prove to be the case until Indiana had its collective back against the wall and started to take advantage of MSU's continuing troubles at the foul line. After a Marvin Clark Jr. steal and dunk, the Spartans held an 11-point lead with just 3:54 to play. Over the final 3:54 though, MSU only was able to attempt two field goals, (which they both missed), and then Indiana began to put the Spartans on the free throw line. Indiana put MSU on the foul line eight times down the stretch and the Spartans only got 7 free throw points. Travis Trice stepped up to hit 5 out of 6 of his free throws but Trice's one free throw miss came with a chance to put the Spartans up by three with just 5 seconds to play. The other Spartans went 2 of 8 from the foul line down the stretch, which included missing two front ends of one-and-ones, and, with one of the other two Spartan makes being a Marvin Clark Jr. attempt to intentionally miss with the Spartans up by just two with less than one second to play.
The best advantage Indiana had against MSU is Yogi Ferrell's shifty speed, and his speed did put the Spartan guards in some foul trouble.
Due to foul trouble, Travis Trice was out for the final 9:30 of the first half. Tum Tum Nairn's time was significantly limited when he picked up his third foul with 6:02 to play in the first half and then his fourth foul with 14:56 still to play. Alvin Ellis III, who played his best game of the season, also picked up 4 fouls and was sent to the bench in the second half. Ferrell ended up shooting 12 free throws for the Hoosiers and hit 10 from the line.
Who said in life there's no second chances? Oh wait, this is basketball...
Michigan State took great advantage of Indiana's lack of rebounding size and effort to grab 15 offensive rebounds, led by Matt Costello's 4 offensive rebounds, and Marvin Clark Jr.'s 4 offensive boards. The offensive rebounds resulted in 18 second chance points for MSU.
MSU, without Dawson, now featuring key bench contributors...
With Branden Dawson out, with Bryn Forbes struggling from the field, and then with Travis Trice and Tum Tum Nairn in foul trouble, both Marvin Clark Jr. and Alvin Ellis III stepped up big time.
Clark Jr. got the start and put in 3 offensive rebound putbacks for 6 of his points in the first half, put in another offensive rebound tip pass from Denzel Valentine for another two, hit a three pointer on the same possession that he had missed a three, and picked up a steal and slam dunk. Clark grabbed 6 rebounds on the game (4 offensive boards), totaled up 14 points, also dished out 3 assists, and with Indiana not pressuring Clark as much as it could of or should have, Clark Jr. only turned the ball over once.
Alvin Ellis III came off the bench to score his Spartan career-high of 16 points. Ellis III got out on the break for two lay-ups, knocked down 2 of his 4 three-point attempts, (which included tying up the game at the end of the first half off of an outstanding Denzel Valentine over the shoulder find), and even knocked down a mid-range jumpshot while also grabbing 3 rebounds.
Free Throws? Yeesh, but it should sound like, swish...
Only Travis Trice shot well from the free throw line, looking good in hitting 8 of 9 from the suppos-ed charity stripe. The rest of the team shot 3 of 11 from the foul line, though, both of Matt Costello's free throws late looked to be down and then popped out. The Spartan free throw misses included missing 3 front end of one-and-one opportunities, Schilling in the first half and then Nairn and Ellis III down the stretch.
An end of the game, "what was that?" worked out A-okay.
MSU refused to put the game away by hitting their free throws and eventually the Spartans, Coach Izzo, (and us the Spartan faithful), were again in the position of being up by three at the end of the game and in the, "should we foul or not foul?...yeah, we've been here before and too much this season."
It worked out this time for the Spartans, as with 16 seconds to play, and off of a timeout, Indiana failed to get off a quick attempt and eventually a loose ball picked up by Indiana's James Blackmon Jr. resulted in a going-for-the-ball Marvin Clark Jr. foul which put Blackmon on the line with 6 seconds left. Blackmon hit both of his foul shots to put the Hosiers only down by one, and with 5 seconds to play, Travis Trice was put on the free throw line where he made the first before Indiana called a timeout. Coach Izzo was ready to foul off of a Trice make so as not to get burned for the third time this season, but then Trice missed, and Denzel Valentine, in mental we're-gonna-foul-mode, fouled Yogi Ferrell at half court with just two seconds to play and with the Spartans only up by two instead of three. Ferrell, however, with a chance to tie, used a favorable rim to get the first free throw to go in and then missed the second free throw which Marvin Clark Jr. energetically rebounded. Clark Jr. was fouled with less than a second to play and missed the first free throw. Attempting to miss the second, so as not to give Indiana any time to catch and shoot, Clark Jr., instead, threw it through the hoop which gave IU one more desperation opportunity, but a Hoosiers' catch and turn-around three-point heave fell well short and the Spartans had the victory.
And so on to the Big Ten Tournament we go...
Having clinched a top four seed Big Ten Tournament bye, the Spartans won't play their first tournament game until Friday. Check in at The Only Colors for more info and updates on our possible first opponent.