North Carolina obliterates Michigan State 89-72 in a 76-possession game. StatSheet box score.
This four-factor graph does not tell the story:
The turnover differential obviously shows up loud and clear, but the other bars understate the degree to which the Tar Heels outplayed us. Statistically speaking, this game was played in two distinct phases:
- The first 10 minutes, in which North Carolina effectively ran us off the court. By my count, MSU turned the ball over 8 times in their first 22 possessions, to fall behind 34-11 at the 9:44 mark in the first half.
- The remaining 30 minutes, in which we toyed with mounting a comeback several times but could never really create any sense the outcome of the game was in doubt. On paper, MSU played UNC even, actually outscoring them 61-55 over the remainder of the game, but the miscues cropped back up whenever the lead got down around 15.
Given the way this game played out, I’m going to forego a full statistical review. I fear it would be a poorly-informed review, anyway–since there’s no way I can stomach watching the game on DVR to ensure I know what I’m talking about.
Instead, allow me to rant about three specific complaints I have about the way things unfolded last night:
- The multiple bad in-bounds passes early in the game were very disappointing. How can you not know that Ty Lawson is going to be lurking and take care to only throw the ball in if the intended recipient is clearly open? This is where the “we’re going to beat them at their own game” mentality came back to haunt us, as the team clearly wanted to push the ball up the court quickly, even off made baskets. As much as I love Goran Suton (19 17 points and 11 rebounds in his Spartan finale) and Draymond Green, they were the culprits in this department.
- Tom Izzo, whom I (along with nearly every basketball commentator in the country) have praised effusively for the last two weeks, should have called a time-out in the first few minutes of the game. I understand that he doesn’t normally call timeouts when opponents are making runs because he wants his team to be able to play through them. But: (1) This is the last game of the season; there’s no point trying to improve the team’s mental toughness at this point. And (2) we were playing North Freaking Carolina; you can’t pretend this is just another team that we’re eventually bound to find our bearings against.
- Chris Allen should not have played nearly as much as he did in the second half. I laud Allen for the way he’s evolved this season, becoming a useful player even when his jumpshot isn’t falling. But we needed to make up points quickly in this game, and after Allen had missed his first 3 or 4 shots, every regular MSU observer in the arena knew he wasn’t going to make a long jumpshot for the remainder of the game, no matter how many he took. Just about any other player on the roster would have given us a better shot to knock down a couple 3-pointers and move the lead toward single digits.
OK, I feel a little better, having gotten that off my chest. We weren’t going to beat this team the way they were playing last night. But it sure would have been nice to go down in something resembling a legitimate basketball contest.
On a positive note, the crowd was fantastic last night, greatly exceeding my expectations. During pregame warm-ups, you could barely hear the announcement of the UNC starting lineup over the PA system. Obviously, the crowd didn’t have much opportunity to get going once the game started. But the MSU faithful did everything they could to try to get behind the team down the stretch. The fans in my section were up on their feet at least a half dozen times in the second half, despite the lead never getting below 13.
I know the future is bright, but I can’t help but feel a little melancholy when I stop to realize this particular team’s run is over. Travis Walton and Goran Suton are done, and their unique skill sets and mentalities were part of what made this team so special. Next year’s team will have just as much talent, and will hopefully be able to craft its own persona, but–at least at this point–I can’t believe it will be quite the same.
Prior to this year, I’d been to only one MSU NCAA Tournament game–the loss to Arizona at the 2001 Final Four in Minneapolis. This year, I had the privilege to witness first-hand three exhilarating Spartan victories en route to the national championship game. I’m grateful for that experience, knowing that this kind of run doesn’t come around very often.
On that note, it’s worth pointing out that this season clearly ranks as the third greatest in the history of the MSU basketball program:
- 31 wins
- An outright Big Ten title
- The Big Ten Player of the Year award and half of the Coach of the Year award
- Two wins over #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament
- The program’s third-ever national championship game appearance
All that from a team that had dropped to a ranking of just #22 in the coaches’ poll released five weeks into the season. It was one heckuva ride all the way up to #2 in the final poll.
This year, more than ever, it’s good to be a Spartan.
P.S. When I first announced I’d be closing down this blog after the season ended, I had no idea there were still eight games of basketball yet to be played. In the next week or so, I will be moving over to a blog on the SBNation platform with a team of MSU fans/writers. The technical kinks are still being worked out, so we’ll hang out here a few days longer.
P.P.S. Six Spartan appearances in this year’s One Shining Moment video–not counting the championship game. Not bad, not bad at all.