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March 12, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS - Michigan State will be home for Selection Sunday for the 11th straight year, rather than spending it at the site of the Big Ten Tournament championship game. That hasn't stopped MSU of making a run in the NCAA Tournament during those years.
Michigan State has been to the Final Four in each of the last two seasons. No team in the nation can match that. Michigan State has been to the Sweet 16 three straight years. Only Xavier can match that.
Starting next week, Michigan State is expected to have a chance to extend those streaks, as the Spartans are projected by most reputable national analysts as a likely selection in the NCAA Tournament, following a 2-1 weekend at the Big Ten Tournament.
Michigan State's upset of No. 9 Purdue on Friday night likely put MSU on the positive side of the bubble, despite Saturday's tired 61-48 loss to Penn State in the Big Ten semifinals.
Penn State's Talor Battle scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half to lead Penn State to victory, and a berth in the Big Ten Tournament title game against No. 1-ranked Ohio State.
Battle made six 3-pointers, including four during a 2:35 stretch in the second half that put the Nittany Lions (19-13) in control for good.
"He hit four threes and I thought all of them were pretty well-guarded," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. "That game switched like that. We had some turnovers that just led to lay-ups. And we just looked a little sluggish. Their defense probably had a lot to do with it, shooting 21 percent in the second half. When we get out-rebounded, that's usually an energy stat. Fatigue, maybe a little bit, with the one-day turnaround and the mental pressure they have been under."
Penn State was playing in its third game in three days as well. And Penn State was fresher during the middle portions of the game, especially with the way Battle was cutting off of good downscreens, ready to catch-and-shoot.
"He is going to hit some of those, he has done it every year," Izzo said. "But we turned it over for lay-ups two or three times and then we just looked like the wind got taken out of our sails. In Kalin Lucas's case it has been a wicked couple of days with the ankle and everything he is trying to do. I don't know if that was part of it but I don't think we had the energy after the first 10 minutes that you need. When it's one-and-done time, it's 40 minutes of energy or you are in trouble. We didn't bring that."
Most media and fans believe the Spartans are a lock for the NCAA Tournament. But Izzo is not agreeing, and he is not pleading his team's case. One has to wonder if he is using his cautiousness as a rallying point of some sort for his guys at the Breslin Center.
"Do I think we could play well in it? Probably. Yeah," Izzo said. "I'm ready to accept whatever I have to accept. I'm saddened that we put ourselves in a position where you are not going to know anything until it comes out, but that blame goes to nobody but us and we are going to have to shoulder that.
"We have done enough to get us in; we have done enough to put us out. If you look at our strength and schedule and all of those things, we have done enough to put us in. But if you look at a couple of bad losses."
Actually, MSU has only one bad loss - which came at Iowa on Feb 2. But No. 9-ranked Purdue lost at Iowa as well. For a while, Michigan State's loss at Penn State on Jan. 8 seemed like a "bad loss," but now that Penn State is headed to the Big Ten Tournament title game, and possibly the NCAA Tournament, that loss doesn't have the stigma it carried a few weeks ago.
It's strange that Izzo would stretch the truth in the "bad loss" category. But he is, for some reason. But Izzo also points out that MSU endured four losses to Duke, Texas, Syracuse and Connecticut against a brutal non-conference season while Lucas was recovering slowly from last year's ruptured Achilles tendon.
"The first two-thirds of the year, with Lucas, where was he at?" Izzo said. "I definitely think we have been a better team in the last six or eight games, but we still have our moments when we are up and down."
Saturday was one of those down days.
Nuts And Bolts
Point guard Tim Frazier had 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists for sixth-seeded Penn State.
"That's been a recurring theme for us this year, with guys hitting shots against us that they usually don't make," Izzo said. "But give him credit, and you knew Penn State was going to be hungry with those four (starting) seniors."
The Nittany Lions haven't reached the NCAA tournament since 2001.
Lucas scored 16 points and Durrell Summers added 11 for Michigan State (19-14), which shot 21 percent in the second half. The Spartans were coming off a 74-56 win over No. 9 Purdue on Friday.
The Nittany Lions have allowed 45.3 points per game in their three tournament wins.
The Nittany Lions have won seven of their past nine games.
The Spartans shot well early, just like they did against Purdue. Summers scored eight points in the first four minutes to help Michigan State take an 11-2 lead.
Penn State rallied, and a pair of fast break layups by Frazier tied the score at 21.
A layup by Battle gave Penn State its first lead of the game, 23-21, with 2:20 left in the first half. After Michigan State's Derrick Nix tied the game again, Battle drained a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to put his team up 26-23 with 48.9 seconds left in the half.
Michigan State's Keith Appling answered with a 3 with 11 seconds remaining to tie the score 26-all at halftime. Lucas had three points and four turnovers at the break.
Michigan State had only 17 field goals, a season-low.
Battle made back-to-back 3-pointers early in the second half during an 8-0 run that gave Penn State a 36-29 lead. Jeff Brooks' 3-pointer with 9:06 remaining gave Penn State a 49-35 lead, and the Nittany Lions remained in control from there.
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