MSU drops an ugly one in Ann Arbor

Well, what an ugly end to an ugly game.

In a hard to describe 40-minute affair, Michigan State did come up on the short end and lost 60-59 in a hard-fought — but disgusting — rivalry game.

Michigan was just slightly less bad Tuesday. Make no mistake, Michigan State should have won despite being outplayed. In the final ten minutes, the game belonged to the Spartans. They just failed to close it.

“You’re on the road at your rival and you find a way to come back and go ahead with a chance to win the game and then you don’t do it at the end,” Tom Izzo said. “That is disappointing.”

Keith Appling dribbled the ball off his foot and it went for an over-and-back. Appling drove wildly, threw it back out to Brandon Wood and Appling missed a three but Wood got the rebound.

Then, Appling missed a floater in the paint that would have put MSU up three with less than a minute remaining. On the final possession, Austin Thornton — who proved clutch scoring eight points late in the second half — passed up an open three to run the play Izzo designed and passed to Draymond Green. (Check out this take on the final play.)

Turns out, Appling was gassed. He played 31 minutes, and spent between 20-25 of it locking down Michigan’s Trey Burke — which he did very well. Burke scored a game-high 20 points, but only seven (by my count) came with Appling guarding him.

Brandan Kearney also did a great job on Burke, allowing only the deep three.

That was to be expected, and so was the Michigan State domination on the boards. The Spartans allowed Michigan just one offensive rebound, while outrebounding the Wolverines 31-15.

Surprisingly, MSU drained 7 threes in 15 attempts. Kearney hit two of those, one of which pulled MSU within one in the first half and the other put the Spartans ahead by one.

On the other end, they also defended the three incredibly well — Michigan went 6-of-21. But they failed to defend just about any other shot and allowed Michigan to shoot 17-of-24 from two-point range.

Really, Michigan used high ball screens and pick-and-rolls to burn Adreian Payne repeatedly.

The Spartans struggles didn’t end with Payne’s inability to defend that play. Brandon Wood could not buy a bucket, hitting just one three in five attempts. Branden Dawson (he played?) was a non-factor because of his inability to guard once again.

Uncharacteristically, Appling and Green combined to have nine turnovers which contributed greatly to the team’s 14 total.

The lack of impact from Wood, Dawson and Payne were huge in the loss. But more importantly, MSU failed to stick to its effective game plan of feeding the post.

Derrick Nix was a monster inside. He went 6-of-9 and had 13 points. He faced constant double teams, and fought his way through them and scored points. He is a force and should have seen the ball more, opposed to consistent dribbling the shot clock down around the perimeter.

Bright spots

Thornton and Kearney showed the most heart of anyone and also had the best overall performances on both ends. Each hit two three pointers and played all-around good defense and made hustle plays.

Turns out, Thornton had the stomach flu but didn’t tell Izzo.

“I didn’t tell (Izzo) that I was sick and he was actually mad at me that I didn’t tell him,” Thornton said. “I just wanted to play and didn’t want any excuses. Being sick in a game is no excuse not to play.”

Kearney quickly is becoming the most important member of the freshman class. Dawson is the most talented and most athletic. Trice is the quickest and a great shooter. Kearney, as Izzo has lauded so many times, gets the game of basketball. We are starting to see that more and more. He makes plays when he gets in, and despite a couple bad fouls Tuesday, he keeps his head level and focused.

He is going to start seeing increased minutes, there is no way Izzo can avoid playing him.

Baffling zebras

I hate blaming refs and they certainly did not decide this game, but the fouls they chose to call seemed awkward. Most were touch fouls, or even anticipation calls or just bail-out whistles. At the same time, they often ignored hacks and more physical plays.

This one was particularly puzzling, because the foul call not only came well after the play, but it came PRECISELY when the shot rolled out of the hoop. The announcers suggest the possibility the whistle could not be heard over the crowd, but it never got any less loud and he never signaled or indicated a foul until the ball rolled off the rim.

Burke-Appling round 1

These two were a lot of fun to watch. Sadly, Appling’s foul trouble forced him to guard Tim Hardaway Jr. and Wolverines to keep him from cheap fouls on Burke. But when he was on Burke, the defense was in his face and he didn’t give much. He got “beat” on a couple of high pick-and-rolls where the post player failed to pick up either player and allowed the early three, but that was it.

Burke had a block on Travis Trice and also got a piece of a shot from Appling as well. He plays tough defense for a freshman and really frustrated Trice, who failed to keep up with him on either end.

Keeping it in perspective

With the loss, the Spartans now are 4-2 in the Big Ten and 15-4 overall. Think back to early November, I think it is safe to say any MSU fan would have gladly taken a 15-4 record at this point in the season.

A 4-2 record in the Big Ten with four road games so far also is pretty darn good. The Spartans are having a great year right now, and this was a good gut check — not fun because it came against the irksome Wolverines — but it will serve them well.

This team has a bright rest of the season ahead of it, and the young guys have an even brighter future.

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Posted on January 18, 2012, in Basketball and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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