Michigan State chalks one up on the road, defeating Illinois 59-51.
Hard to know exactly how to feel about this one. On the positive side, MSU buckled down after Illinois jumped out to a 21-11 lead and outscored the Illini 48-30 over the final 30 minutes of the game. MSU built a 6-point lead early in the second half and led pretty comfortably down the stretch.
On the other hand, the start to the game was disappointing, as Illinois scored a series of easy buckets near the hoop on a combination of Shaun Pruitt post moves (odd they didn’t go to him more later in the game) and poor help defense by the Spartans. And if Illinois shoots a decent % from the line (they finished 9-19), this would have been a tight game in the second half.
In the end, it’s a conference road win. And we’re in no position to turn our noses up at those.
To start the game, MSU was clearly looking to the mistmatches Morgan had to create scoring opportunities. Interestingly, he was only able to convert on one 2-point shot (on a low post move), but knocked down two 3-pointers. His confidence level shooting the ball actually looks better outside the arc than inside it right now. Disappointingly, Morgan faded entirely down the stretch. He didn’t score in the second half and was off the floor for most of the final minutes of the game.
Suton turned out to be the catalyst MSU needed in the half-court offense. He finished with 10 points and 4 assists, meaning he was involved in 30.5% of MSU points. He was more aggressive on offense tonight; in a few cases it turned out poorly, but it kept Illinois off-balance. It also seemed like Izzo had instructed his guards to get the ball to him more consistently. I noticed Neitzel making a concerted effort to make an entry pass on at least one occasion when Suton wasn’t obviously open.
Naymick had a nice connection going with Suton. He finished with 12 points on 5-6 FG shooting, hitting a long shot late that was very nearly a 3-pointer.
A few more stats from the (unofficial) box score:
- Neitzel had a very Neitzelesque game: 17 points on 13 FG attempts, 4 assists, zero turnovers.
- MSU had another good showing in terms of turnovers–10 in about 57 possessions (17.5%). There were a couple of the no-purpose-whatsoever variety, but most of them came in the course of trying to create offensive opportunities.
- Izzo shortened the bench tonight. Only 7 players played more than 10 minutes. Probably a function of a game he knew would be played at a slow pace.
- For Illinois, 3-point shooting was a key stat. They made just 2 of 15 attempts (.133); credit MSU for not giving up easy looks.
- Demetrius McCamey–the one guy who looks he has the potential to be an offensive catalyst for the Illini–really struggled, making only 1 of 7 FG attempts and turning it over 6 times.
It wasn’t the work of the art the IU game was, but I think MSU played with enough confidence and efficiency to show they’re building on their recent success heading into postseason play. Next up: a road game against a team that plays good defense AND has a couple, real-live offensive threats (Ohio State; noon Sunday; BTN).
Final note: As harsh as I’ve been about Brent Musburger in the past, I feel I should give him some credit for his call of tonight’s game. He’s toned down the over-the-top calls on every other play and has, I think, actually eliminated the word “huge” from his vocabulary. Plus his enthusiasm for Goran Suton matches that of the Spartans Weblog’s. He was pushing him for first-team all-conference tonight. I’m not sure even I’d go that far (although it does raise an interesting question: Who is the second best big man in the Big Ten behind D.J. White?). Meanwhile, no less than college basketball blogosphere legend Yoni Cohen concurs with my love for the analytical musings of Mr. Steve Lavin.