The Spartans battle past the Trojans 74-69 in a 69-possession game. StatSheet box score.
It’s a cliche’ to say that a player “willed” his team to victory. But, if ever that cliche’ was true, it was today. Here’s a breakdown of the 74 points MSU scored today:
- 24 points on free throws.
- 18 points on 3-pointers.
- 16 points on Travis Walton 2-pointers.
- 16 points on 2-pointers scored by the other 10 Spartans who played in the game.
It looked to me like Tom Izzo had gone out of his way to tell Walton that he needed to shoot every open jumper he got–and shoot them with confidence. On the first possession of the game–when USC came out employing the box and one–Walton got the ball about 18 feet from the basket in an open spot in the zone. Usually, you’d expect him to hesitate at least briefly before shooting the ball so early in the game. But, instead, he immediately squared up and knocked down the shot. From their, his confidence ballooned; eventually he knocked down a couple shots where he had to adjust the arc of the shot due to an onrushing USC defender.
Beyond Walton’s career day, this win was a team performance. Seven players played between 17 and 26 minutes–with Kalin Lucas going 35 minutes. Those eight guys all contributed in different ways:
- Lucas wasn’t able to drive the lane consistently against the taller USC defenders, but he played a very efficient game running the offense: 10 points on 6 FGA, 7 assists, 1 turnover.
- On top of his 18 points, Walton contributed 2 key assists and stole the ball twice.
- Durrell Summers was a huge spark in the first half. For the game, he scored 11 points on 3-4 three-point shooting and pulled down 8 rebounds–4 of them on offense.
- Chris Allen had 8 points on 2-5 three-point shooting and pitched in 3 assists.
- It seems like Draymond Green becomes a more important player to this team every single game. He played 22 minutes tonight, putting up 7 points and 9 rebounds (8 of them defensive). More importantly, he played solid defense on Taj Gibson, eventually instigating Gibson’s 5th foul on a picture-perfect box out.
- Delvon Roe scored 10 points on 5 FGA and 7 FTA. During the stretch Suton was out of the game, he and Green both found ways to get open inside for dunks and/or free throw opportunities.
- Goran Suton struggled with his outside shot, converting only 1 of 10 FG attempts. But he contributed everywhere else: 10 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, a block, and fantastic defense against Gibson.
- Raymar Morgan had a tough day. He failed to make a field goal, scoring 3 points at the free throw line. But he played hard throughout the game, helping to neutralize USC’s athletes some on defense.
In total, MSU recorded 20 assists on 22 made field goals. Against one of the very few teams in the nation that’s more athletic than they are, the MSU players relied on execution and passing to win the game. They turned the ball over a few too many times (TO% of 23.2%), but that was largely a function of playing aggressively against an athletic and long USC defense.
Defensively, the key was obviously making Taj Gibson a nonfactor. Gibson’s stat line: 3 points, zero FGs, zero rebounds, 5 blocked shots, 3 turnovers, 5 fouls. Gibson’s obviously a fantastic interior player, but MSU’s team of big men was too much for him. Suton played him perfectly early, moving his feet on defense to prevent Gibson from getting good position. On the other end of the court, the MSU players kept attacking the basket–despite Gibson’s 5 blocks–eventually forcing him to pick up his 3rd foul four minutes into the second half.
DeMar DeRozan, Daniel Hackett, and Dwight Lewis played well–scoring 50 points on 41 FG attempts by wearing down the MSU guards and forcing fouls in the lane. But once MSU built a small lead late in the game, they couldn’t respond. For the game, those three players combined to make just 1 of 9 three-point attempts.
The Trojans were every bit as athletic and physical as their statistical profile indicated; this was not your father’s #10 seed. But, in the end, MSU was just a bit tougher due to their depth. We won the rebounding battle and ended up forcing them to foul us 3 more times than we fouled them, leading to a 5-shot advantage from the line:
The early 3-point makes by Summers and Allen–along with Walton’s jumpshooting spree–were huge, as they forced the USC defenders to guard us aggressively on the perimeter, which eventually led to a few easy looks and a bunch of USC fouls on the inside.
Neither of our first two wins were big-time blowouts, but I feel like we’ve played about as well as we could have hoped to in both games. Izzo now has another four full days of practice with the full roster healthy to get the team ready to take its best shot at getting to Ford Field.
Up next: A return to Indianapolis and a rematch with the Jawyhawks. Friday night. Approximate game time is 9:37.