Spartans win after incredible second-half fight-back
Some foolish person said in the preview of tonight’s pivotal contest that this iteration of the Michigan State Spartans would be a different one than Penn State played in the two teams’ first contest. That same foolish person made a comment in the first half, sometime around Penn State being up 17 or so, that “this game was over.” That same foolish person ended up being right about the outcome, but not in the way he expected.
This film-noir of a Spartans’ season may have a different kind of ending than the archetypal confusion and reductio ad absurdum that most noirs do, where the hero ends the film having failed to complete their goal and confused about the world they thought they understood. Where earlier in the season the Spartans routinely found themselves lost in confusion at the end of games, struggling for answers after digging deep deficits, this Spartans team found all the right answers, and may have found the resolve and grit to really achieve some of their goals this year.
This game started as many nightmares have this season: failing to respect the PSU shooters (allowing an incredible ten made three-pointers in the first half), missing open shots that feed the opponents’ transition game, and allowing offensive rebounds that extended opponents’ possessions. This had the hall-marks of the Duke game, Purdue game, and Indiana game, at least. But where the Spartans failed to mount a real fight-back in those tilts, tonight they fought back in incredible fashion: they fought Penn State, they fought the refs, they fought the crowd, they fought the coaches, and they fought their own demons—their own fears that this season might end with a whimper.
Down 31-46 at the half, Aaron Henry and Rocket Watts opened the half with a burst of scoring: hitting jumpers and lay-ups to cut the deficit to six. After a bit of back-and-forth point exchanges, Aaron Henry, who finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, 3 assists, and zero turnovers, had another burst in him: an assist in the paint to Tillman for a dunk, a lay-up off an offensive rebound, and a huge step-in three-pointer from Cassius’s great find, to tie the game at 49.
From that point on, the win felt inevitable, if not comfortable. Tillman, who finished with 23 points, 15 rebounds, two blocks and some excellent defense, Winston, who finished with 14 points (on seven shots) and seven crucial assists, and Rocket Watts, who finished with a volume-induced 18 points (on 20 shots) did most of the damage from that point on. But the game was a tale of two halves in a season that hasn’t had such stories of redemption in earlier big-deficit games. Malik Hall, Kyle Ahrens, Gabe Brown, Thomas Kithier, and Marcus Bingham jr all had better second half performances (Foster Loyer’s good stint came in the first half), and this team scrapped and clawed its way to an oh-so-sweet victory on Lamar Stevens’ senior night (what a career for him - hats off), on a night when Rutgers beat Maryland to give the Spartans a shot to win the conference against Ohio State.
What a night, what a win, what a fight, this is a team that is wresting its destiny from the hands of fate. We are seeing it before our eyes, and it is unlike anything we have seen from this group of players. Last year, they began percolating in mid-season and just played some super and consistent ball down the stretch, this year has been a struggle, but even in the Maryland win—a wire to wire domination—we did not have evidence that the team could fight back like they did here. Now we do. This Spartans team can dominate games, and now we know they can come back from big deficits against damn good teams, which Penn State is (don’t get it twisted).
It’s March. It’s on.
Dance of Joy y’all: