Michigan State pushes past Illinois 63-57 in a 66-possession game. Statsheet box score.
First things first: It was great to be there for the Morris Peterson jersey retirement ceremony. Nine years ago, my wife and I sat/stood in the second row of the student section and watched that man do amazing things en route to a national championship. Today, we sat with our two sons in the very last row in the upper deck of the arena (in the middle section behind one basket–literally the worst seats in the house).
I’m glad those seating positions weren’t reversed, because there will never be a basketball season like that one again, and we got to witness it from just a few feet away.
With both Mateen Cleaves’ #12 and Peterson’s #42 now hanging in the rafters, the 2000 team now joins the 1979 team as the only squads with two players officially recognized as all-time greats. While Cleaves will always be remembered as the face of that team, Peterson really better symbolizes the essence of the team better. He was an unheralded player out of high school who signed up to play for an unheralded coach at a school that had been relatively unheralded for the last 15 years. He worked his butt off, overcame some adversity along the way, and became an all-American.
Despite the fact I can only get to about 5 games a year now, I’ve been at both Cleaves’ and Peterson’s jersey retirement games. I’m grateful to karma for making that happen.
On to the game itself:
The easy thing would be subtitle this game “The Return of the Turnovers.” MSU turned the ball over 18 times in 66 possessions, equating to a season-high turnover percentage of 27.3%. Fourteen of the turnovers occurred in the first half. After getting out to a 10-2 lead on the strength of ferocious offensive rebounding, the Spartans struggled mightily up until halftime, consistently turning the ball over before they could even start running their offense.
While there were certainly some boneheaded turnovers in there (Can we please pay attention to where the sideline is when we get the ball on the wing, fellas?), I think you have to give quite a bit of credit to Illinois’ pressure man-to-man defense. Nine of MSU’s 18 turnovers were committed by the three point guards. In the past, our turnovers have generally been committed mostly by the wing players and big men. Illinois put great pressure on the ball up top, flustering the point guards into committing turnovers.
So I’m not particularly concerned the turnover issues are something that will be a problem going forward.
Kalin Lucas had his worst game of the season: 3-13 FG shooting, 3 assists, 3 turnovers. He was very passive in the first half, when he went scoreless. And he couldn’t hit anything that wasn’t right at the rim.
Similarly, Raymar Morgan wasn’t terribly aggressive (outside a couple nice interior passes) in the first half, scoring only 2 points. After I played up the Morgan-McCamey match-up in the preview, it turned out that Morgan and Meachem were assigned to guard each other on both ends of the court. Despite the size mismatch, Morgan wasn’t able to score early. (He did do a great job chasing Meachem down on defense, though.)
He and Lucas were both able to score late, though: They combined to score 10 of MSU’s final 12 points, as they turned a 3-point deficit into a 6-point win. Give both of them credit for not getting down on themselves and coming up big when we needed it by taking advantage of their quickness and getting to the line (combined 8-9 free throw shooting).
To get to those last few minutes with a chance to pull the game out required a full team effort. Here’s the list of Spartan players who scored in the game:
- 12: Suton
- 11: Gray
- 10: Lucas
- 8: Morgan
- 7: Walton
- 6: Allen
- 5: Roe
- 3: Lucious
- 1: Summers
Very nearly a perfect numerical sequence.
And multiple guys contributed on the offensive glass (which is a very good thing, according to our historical analysis). Ten different MSU players pulled down at least one offensive board, led by Chris Allen and Marquise Gray with three each. The result was yet another 50%+ OffReb% performance:
Gray had his best game of the year (indeed, perhaps his best games as a Spartan): 11 points on 5 FG attempts and 6 rebounds in 15 minutes. And Allen, despite shooting just 3-10 from the field, has improved his ball-handilng and defense enough that Izzo chose to use him as the 5th guy on the floor with the game on the line.
Final offensive note: It’s a great win when you pull out a game in which Goran Suton (2-2) is your only legitimate three-point shooting threat.
Now to defense, where this win was really earned. Going into the game, I had said that they key was to force the Illinois guards to beat you one on one. Mission accomplished. Time after time, Illinois would try to run their offense, get down to 10 seconds left on the shot clock, and be unable to generate a good scoring opportunity. Demitri McCamey, Trent Meachem, and Chester Frazier combined for just one made field goal on 17 attempts.
Despite those extremely pathetic looking free throw attempts at the end, I’m going to nominate Travis Walton for player of the game. He was plastered on McCamey all night, forcing him into a 0-9 FG shooting line.
MSU’s half-court defense was simply impeccable in the closing minutes: They held Illinois to just 3 points in the game’s final six minutes. Once we finally took the lead with 4:49 to go, I had almost no fear Illinois would be able to recapture it.
I was surprised Illinois didn’t try to get the ball inside to Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale more. The two big men shot a combined 7 for 12 from the field. Instead, the two two leading Illini scorers were bench players: Alex Legion with 15 points on 3-5 three-point shooting and Calvin Brock with 13 points on 6-8 FG shooting. The MSU defense continues to take away the other team’s primary scoring options and force other guys to beat them.
In the end, MSU forced Illinois into as many turnovers as they committed themselves. Several of those forced turnovers led directly to transition scoring opportunities on the other end, helping to erase a 9-point lead on a day on which the Spartans couldn’t seem to hit jumpshot to save their lives.
When you’re the conference title favorite, you hate to see your team down by 9 in the second half to anyone. But this Illinois team is no ordinary opponent: It’s a balanced, veteran team that’s not going to back down from any fight, even in a hostile road environment. MSU fully earned this win, which now puts them up by at least two games in the conference standings, outside of those pesky Gophers.
Next up: Another home tilt, this one against Northwestern, on Wednesday (6:30, BTN). Plan on doing a (primitive) live chat here.