Michigan State escapes Happy Valley with a 5-point win: 78-73 in a 65-possession game. Statsheet box score. (Note: I just realized the Statsheet box scores have an “Advanced Player Stats” tab with individual tempo-free numbers. Wicked awesome.)
That was a very unpleasant 10 minutes of basketball.
After a game like this one, it’s easy to talk about how a team “let up” or “wasn’t tough enough” in letting a double-digit lead nearly slip away in the second half. But, in this case, I think you have to talk about tactics before you talk about emotional fortitude.
After playing man-to-man defense for almost the entire first half, Ed DeChellis went with, not just one, but two different zone looks in the second half (2-3 and 1-3-1). With only a few timeouts to draw things up against the zones, MSU couldn’t adjust effectively, and Penn State made some great plays offensively to close the gap.
You can argue that Izzo should have had the team prepared to play against the zone. I don’t know how much Penn State has utilized zone schemes in previous games; DeChellis does have a history of being a zone coach. But it’s hard to completely adjust your offensive approach on the fly when you’ve been dominating a team for 20+ minutes.
The MSU players did look tentative and seemed to lose their shooting strokes late, but it’s hard to say how much of that is some fundamental inability to close out games versus being a symptom of the particular circumstances of this game.
Kudos to Kalin Lucas for hitting 6 of 8 free throw attempts in the final minute to put the game away.
Moving on to the stats, here’s your four factors graph:
Despite Penn State winning the second-half rebounding battle, MSU still came away with a major advantage on the boards, pulling down 41 of 65 total rebounding opportunities. That was enough to offset Penn State’s turnover advantage.
MSU has now posted an offensive rebounding percentage of 50.0% or better in 3 of its first 4 conference games. Rebounding looks to be a massive advantage for us in conference play–particularly when you consider that Penn State came into this game as the second best rebounding team in the league.
Jamelle Cornley (26 points on 15 FG attempts) and Talor Battle (20 points on 11 FG attempts) were both spectacular. I thought MSU defended them about as well as you could hope to and both still found ways to consistently score against bigger players. The rest of the Nittany Lions shot a collective 9-27, though. Last year’s hero, Stanley Pringle, struggled, making just 2 of 11 FG attempts.
MSU player bullets:
- Goran Suton is back and better than ever: 13 points and 14 rebounds. He was the most aggressive player trying to attack the zone, and his newfound perimeter shooting touch is opening up new offensive possibilities.
- Raymar Morgan had 17 points on 7-9 FG shooting. Against a team without a shot-blocking presence, he had multiple impressive finishes near the basket.
- Kalin Lucas had a strong start, with 9 points and 4 assists in the first half, but struggled down the stretch. He couldn’t generate any scoring against the zone defenses (zero points/assists in the second half until the free throws late) and shot just 3-13 from the field for the game.
- Travis Walton had six assists and did everything he could to contain Battle, but I do have a couple nitpicks: (1) continuing to pick up fouls by being too aggressive with his hands and (2) taking an ill-advised, rushed jumpshot with 4 minutes left and a 6-point lead that gave Penn State some additional momentum to eventually close the gap to 2 points.
- Delvon Roe picked up 5 offensive rebounds. He and Suton are a tremendous tag team on the offensive boards.
- Durrell Summers scored 10 points and was Izzo’s choice to be the fifth guy on the floor with the game in question.
- Chris Allen scored 7 points on 4 FG attempts in 13 minutes. I thought we could have used him a little more against the zone late in the game.
- Korie Lucious (2 assists; zero turnovers) played under control, Marquise Gray and Draymond Green pulled down a few boards, and Idong Ibok fouled some people.
Four of MSU’s starters (everyone but Roe) played 30 or more minutes tonight. Izzo may have tightened up the rotation a bit too much, leaving the starters a step slow in the final minutes.
Anyway, a road win is a road win. And a 4-0 conference start is a 4-0 conference start. This game should serve as a learning experience in terms of being able to adapt in the second half when an opponent throws something new at you.
Up next: A home game vs. the resurgent Illini on Saturday (4:00, ESPN).
P.S. There were a few in-game comments tonight. What’s the interest level in doing open threads so that we can converse a bit during future games?