football

DotComp: Spartans showing heart of a defending champion

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EASTLANSING-MichiganStatewasrunningclosetoemptyonoffensiveoptions.TheSpartans,asateam,weredowntotheirlastmulliganinanuphill,unlikelyclimbtowardwhattheyhopewillbetheir14thstraighttriptotheNCAATournament.
InordertowinonSaturdayagainstIllinois,andgetbackto7-7intheBigTenand15-11overall,andmaintainpostseasonhope,theSpartansneededKalinLucastotakefreakingover.
AndtheyneededDelvonRoetoignoretheworstpainofhisathleticlife.
AndtheyneededDraymondGreentogivewhathecould,withoutthrowingup.
TheyneededDurrellSummerstohustle,keepaclearhead,andatleastplaydefense,reboundandhitsomefreethrows,afterexperiencingemotionalrockbottomjustthreedaysearlier.
Summerscamethrough.Hewassolid.Notahero.Buthewassolid.
Greendidwhathecould,havingbattledstomachfluforthepastcoupleofdays,andsufferingasevererelapseaboutanhourbeforegametime."ItlookedlikehewasreallyintroublewhenIgottothearenatoday,"saidTomIzzo.
Izzohadtochangehisstartinglineup,andinitialgameplan,severaltimesinthehoursleadinguptotip-off.
Greenshotaseason-lowthreefieldgoalattempts,makingone,in27minutes.Hehadsixrebounds.
"That'swhyIdidn'twanttotrytodotoomuchoffensively,"Greensaidoftheflu."Imadeafewmistakes,tryingtodowhatInormallycoulddo."
Butwiththegametiedat51-51with2:31left,hefacedupontheleftwing,loweredhisshoulder,drewcontactandafoul,wenttotheline,pausedtomakesurehisstomachwouldn'tgoinreverse,madetwofreethrows,andputMSUupforgoodat53-51.
RoeplayedeightminutesagainstOhioStatefourdaysago.Theplanwasforhimtomaybecontribute15minutesinthisgame,ashecontinuedtorecoverfromhislatestkneeinjury.
"Uh,changeofplans,Delvon,"IzzotoldRoeshortlybeforethegame."You'regoingtoplayalittlemorethanwethought.You'restarting."
Roehasn'tpracticedsincesufferingaseverekneebruiseinthefinalsecondsofthePennStategame10daysago.Repeat.Hasnotpracticed.
"Delvonhasonlybeenabletojustwalk-through,"Izzosaid."DayDayhasn'tpracticedsinceOhioState.Hedidn'teventouchtheflooryesterday(Friday).Sowearejustkindofsurviving.Forinstance,wenormallyswitchthefourandfive(ondefense).Theywentsmall.Wecouldn'tgettotallyreadyforsomeoftheswitchingandexchangesthatwedo.That'showtheygotacoupleofthosebackdoorthingsopen."
ThisisthetimeofyearwhenIzzotightensthescrews,makessubtleimprovementsonthedetails,andturnsaverageteamsintogoodones,andgoodteamsintogreatones.ButIzzo'shandyworkhasbeeninterruptedbytheseRoeandGreenailments.AndinwalkedanIllinoisteamthatwasalmostasdesperateastheSpartans,andprobablymoretalented.
"Itwasanold-fashionedKeady-Heathcotegame,"Izzosaid."Ithoughtbothteamspalyedashardastwoteamscouldplay."
Atleastforasecond,beforeorduringthegame,Izzohadtowonder,andkeeptohimself,ifthisishowthiscrazyseasonwasgoingtofinallydie,andhowthestreakwouldfinallyend.Aftertheoff-seasondismissalofChrisAllen,thebrutaltravelscheduleofthenon-conferenceseason,theunexpectedone-gameNCAAsuspension,thelosses,thenever-endingshortageofpracticetime,Lucas'sslow,10-monthrecoveryfromlastyear'sinjury,Roe'sfailingwheels,DerrickNix'smid-seasonseparationfromtheteam,thedismissalofKorieLucious,andthenanotherRoeinjury,afterallthat,ofalltimestoloseGreen-theteam'sfrontmanandemotionalpulse-toastomachflu,whynow?Inthefirstactualmust-winsituationoftheyear?Whynow?
Izzohadtoputthatanxietyasideandlettheteamknowthathestillbelievedinthem.
'I'mAgreeing'
Roe'skneewasokayformostofthefirsthalf.
"Thenafterrunningonitalittlebit,thepaincame,"Roesaid."Ididn'tknowhowitwouldbebecause,basically,Ihaven'tranonitforanylengthoftimeformorethanaweek."
IzzoaskedRoehowhewasdoingathalftime.
"Delvonjustsaidtome,'I'mplaying.'
"Isaid,'I'magreeing.'"
WithMSUup53-51,andtheseasonjustoneortwomoremistakesawayfrombeingdismissedasacolossalfailure,dozensofformerSpartanplayerswatched,allaroundtheworld,fearingthatthisteam,the2011team,wouldbetheonethatwouldbreakthestreak.Roe,withaheartasbigasBeaumontTower,deliveredthreecriticalplaysfortheSpartansinamatterof:45seconds.
With1:55left,Roesaggedperfectlyoffofthemanhewasguarding,flashedasahelpdefenderonadrivingBrandonPaul,andblockedhisshot,sendingalooseballtowardthesideline.
Summerswasthefirsttoreacttothelooseball,byaninstant.Andthefirsttogettoit,byaninch.Hechasedafteritharderthananyone.Hetippeditoverthehalfcourtline,whereanIllinoisplayerretrieveditandheaveda70-footertowardtherim,missingeverything,resultinginashotclockviolation.
Summerslookedtothebench.Izzoraisedapleasedfist.Theyexchangedfive.
Thatmightseemlikenobigdealifyoudidn'tknowthisteam,hadn'tfollowedtheirplight,hadn'tsharedintheiranguish.ButherewasSummers,ademotedsenior,stilltryingtogaintheapprovalofhiscoach.HerewasIzzo,stilltryingtogetSummerstofocusoneverylittledetail.Stillbelievinginhim.Andhavingnochoicebuttotrustthathewouldn'tmessup,again.
Fourdaysearlier,SummersfailedtohustleafteralooseballthathadbeenflungacrossthehalfcourtlineatOhioState.Hebarelymoved,figuringitwaspointlesstogoandgrabitandgetwhistledforanover-and-backviolation.ButheforgotthatOhioStatecouldchaseitdownandscore,whichtheydid,plusonewithafoulbyteammateKeithAppling.ThatwaswithMSUdown5withfiveminutestoplayatNo.2OhioState.IzzoyankedSummersoutofthegame.Heneverwentbackin.AndMSUdidn'tseriouslychallengetherestofthenight.
"Thatplayembarrassedus,"Izzosaidacoupleofdayslater.
ButnoonewashurtbyitmorethanSummers.HetearedupwhenaddressinghisteammatespriortopracticeonThursday.Heisnotaperfectplayer.Notevenclose.Buthewantedthemtoknowthathecared,andthathewasnotgoingtostoptrying.
AgainstIllinois,hetried.Theyalldid.Andthat'swhytheyarestillalive.
"IthoughtDurrellhandledeverythingwell,"IzzosaidofSummers."OneortwotimesIthoughtherelaxed(ondefense),butIthinkheunderstandstheintensityhehastoplaywith.Thatonewhentheshotclockranout,hedidahellofajob.
"It'sasmallstepbutIthinkit'sastepintherightdirection.Guysreallyralliedaroundhim.IthoughtthatwasawesomeandhopefullywillleadtosomegoodthingsbecausewearegoingtoneedhimatMinnesota."
'ThePainWasa12'
Aftertheshotclockviolation,Roedeliveredonoffense,steppingaggressivelytotherim,splittingtwodefendersforapowerlay-up,makingit55-51with1:37toplay.ItwasahighpercentageshotmadeavailablebyaGreenface,fake,takeanddish,aroundPaul,whobitonapumpfake.ItwasGreen'sonlyassistofthenight,anditwasabiggie.
GreenwasinspaceagainstahelpdefenderbecauseLucashadexpertlyexecutedaspindribbletobeatIllinois'ballscreendefensiveadjustment.AnIllinoiscenterwentouthightocutoffLucas'spreferredroute,offtheballscreen.SoLucaswenttheotherway,drewadefenderandgaveittoGreen.
Itwasclutchexecutionbythreebig-heartedguys,threebattled-testedplayers-Roe,Green,Lucas.AlongwithSummers,theyhaveplayedin11NCAATournamentgamesinthelast23months,winningnineofthem.Nooneinthecountrycanequaltheminthatcategory.
DidNCAATournamentexperiencehaveanythingtodowithMSU'sstrong-willedexecutionattheendofthisgameagainstIllinois?Maybenot.ButthespecterofmissingtheNCAATournamenthadeverythingtodowiththeteambitingdowncollectivelyunlikeatanyothertimeallyear.
Onegetstheideathattheyaren'tjustplayingfortheirNCAATournamentlives,theyareplayingfortheMichiganStatewayoflife.Thewayoflifearoundhere-intheBreslinlockerroom,videoroom,trainingroom,weightroom,playersloungeandoffices-hasrevolvedaroundthejourneytoSelectionSunday.It'saboutlearninghowhightheSpartansareseededintheNCAATournament,whotheyareplayingagainst,whenandwhere...andnotif.
Onthisnight,againstIllinois,theSpartanswerefightingtopreservethatwayoflife.
AfterRoe'slay-up,withMSUupby4,and1:10left,theSpartansclockedinondefense.
Illinois'versatileJeremeRichmondfacedGreenatthetopofthekey,one-on-one,bythemselves.Greengotlowinthehungriestdefensivestanceofhislifeandpowerfullyslappedthecourtwithhishands.Richmondpassedtoateammate.
McCameyreceivedasideballscreen.Roeswitchedontohim.That'spowerforwardonpointguard.That'sadvantageoffense,evenifthepowerforwardhastwogoodlegs.
"Onascaleof1to10,"Roesaidafterthegame,"thepainwasa12."
Illinois'mostgiftedoffensiveplayerprobedtotheright,crossedovertotheleft,fakedastep-backaction,anddroveright.Roestayedwithhim,mirroredeverymovementrightontime,didn'tbite,didn'tgiveupanydaylight.
McCameyhandedofftoateammate,whomisseda3-pointer.Roecollectedtherebound.HepassedtoLucas.AndthenRoelimpedupcourtlikeWillisdamnReed.
Somewhere,Magicnodded.Somewhere,Respertapproved,andMateensmiled.Theyhavelimpedlikethat,whilewearinggreen,whentherewerenootherchoices.
"I'veneverbeenprouderoftwoguys,"IzzosaidofGreenandRoe.
ThiscomingfromaguywhocoachedMateenandMoPete,aguywhowonaNationalChampionshipin2000,andhastakensixteamstotheFinalFour.Hehasoverseensomelegendarymoments.Buthehasneverbeenprouderofanyonethanthesetwo,onthisnight.OthersmaytieRoeandGreenintheareaofsacrifice.Butnooneexceedsthem,notinIzzo'sbook.Notonthisnight.
"Itwastwoteamsplayingfortheirlivesalittlebit,"Izzosaid."IgotatextfromMorrisPetersonbeforethegamesaying,'Coach,tellthemtoplaywiththeprideofaSpartan.'IfDelvonRoedoesn'tembodythat,nobodydoes."
Allofthesebattered,beleagueredheroes-Roe,Green,Summers,evenMikeKebler-allofthemwerelittlestaples,littlesoldiersinthisparticularbattle.TheydidthelittlethingssothatLucas'sbigthingswouldn'tbeinvain.
"ItoldKalinhe'sgottobeanironman,"Izzosaid."Wecan'ttakehimout."
'I'veNeverSeenKalinThatTired'
Lucashadagame-high25points.NootherSpartanscoredmorethan9.Lucasmissedmoreshotsthanhemade,shooting9-of-19,butthat'sgoingtobethecasewhenfewothersonhisteamwereoffensivelyviable.AforcedshotattemptbyLucasonthisnightwasbetterthanaopenshotbymostofhisteammates.
Illinoisknewit.TheysetouttostopLucas,MSU'sonlyoffensiveweapon.Theydeniedhiminthehalf-court,pressedhiminthefullcourt.
"I'veneverseenKalinthattired,"Izzosaid.
That'swhatmakeshis25pointsmoreimpressive.
"Oneofthethingswetalkedaboutbeforewassomeonehadtobespecial,"Webersaid."Thesadpartwastheguyonthecourtthatwasspecialwasontheotherteam.WehadstretchesofgooddefensebutobviouslyLucaswasthespecialonetonight."
Tiedat47-47with5:57toplay,Greensat,tryingtosettlehisstomach,andconservewhatlittleenergyhehad.LucaswasonthefloorwithSummerstohisrightandApplingtohisleft.Forthegame,SummersandApplingcombinedtoshoot4-for-16.Atcrunchtimeinthisgame,theycouldnotbetrustedasprimaryscoringoptions.
Downlow,LucashadRoe,andGarrickSherman.Roewasgimpy.Shermanwasiffy.
Onthispossession,MSUranaplayortwo,someballscreenaction.Butnoneoftheseguysweregoodchoiceswiththeball.Summershadabriefopeningtopossiblyforcea20-footeronacatch-and-shootoffadownscreen.Hewiselydecidedagainstit.HeflippeditbacktoLucas.
Izzocalledforaclearout.Lucasvs.theworld.
LucasfacedupagainstIllinoisstopperD.J.Richardson.Richardsonhadahelpdefenderovereachshoulder,allstaringatLucas.
Lucaswentbetweenthelegsleft.Afractionofahesitation.Betweenthelegsbacktotheright.Thencrossovertotheleft.Anotherhesitation.ThenGO!
ThatwasenoughtogetasteponRicahrdson.IncameBillColeasahelpdefender.Lucassplitthemboth,hoveredintothelaneanddrainedateardropfrom6feettoputMSUup49-47.Itwasabig,big-timedelivery,whenMSUhadnootheroffensiveoptions.
"HemadesomemovetodayandIlookedatNixandsaid,'Thatboygood,'"Greensaid.
AndthenLucasdiditagain,whenitwas49-49.Again,theshotclockwasdowntoabout:08whenLucasreceivedaballscreenfromSherman.LucasflippedittoShermanwith:05leftontheshotclock.ShermangaveitrightbacktoLucas.
That'soneareawherethisteamhasgrown.Theroleplayershavebecomesmarter.TheyknowthatLucasistheguywhoshouldgettouchaftertouchaftertouch.It'sgoodforLucastoknowthatifhegivesitup,he'llgetitback.Andquickly.Thesupportingcastisgettingabetterhandleontheirroles.CreditIzzo.
AfterflippingtheballbacktoLucas,Shermanstayedouthighandofferedobstructionasaballscreener.Lucasusedthatscreen,madeatighthairpinturntotheleft,quickandstickyoffthebounce.Hesplittwodefendersandrattled-inanotherteardropinthelane,thistimeoverbigMikeDavis.
ThesewereexcellentoffensiveplaysbyLucas,compoundedbythefactthatMSUhadnooneelsetogoto.ItwasKalinorbust.
"IsaidifKembaWalkerwassogreatearly-andhewas,weplayedagainsthim-butinthelastsixorsevengames,KalinLucashasbeenasgoodasanybodyI'vewatchedonTV,"Izzosaid."Butit'snotjusthisscoring,heisreboundingbetter,heisguardingbetter.Weblewacoupleofchancesforhimtogetacouplemoreassists,butheonlyhadoneturnoverin39minutes,doggedlikehewas.Illinoisdefendedhimverywell.Theydoggedhim,doggedhim,doggedhim.IhavereallyrespectedthewayhehasadjustedandIthinkheisimprovinghisgamebecauseheisreallytryingtolisten,withhispull-ups,andreallytakingcareoftheball.
"Whatatimeforhimtogethisswaggerback.It'sgoodtoseetheswaggerbackandit'sgoodtoseethespeedback."
Somewillsaythatthiswasjusta4-pointvictorybya.500teamoveranother.500team.Onpaper,theyareright.ButifyouknowMichiganState,thiscoach,theseplayers,thisprogram,thiswincouldgrowtobesomuchmore.Ifyouknowthisprogram,youknowthatwhiletheystillcouldgetknockedofftheNCAATournamentfenceatanyinstant,youalsoknowthattheyarecapableofdoingdamageiftheyareinvited.It'spossiblethatthe13-yearrunwillendthisyear,oreventhiscomingweek.It'sjustaspossiblethatthisteamcouldgetintotheTournamentanddosomethingcrazy,likemaketheSweet16forthe10thtimein14years.
ThisparticularMSUteamthatplayedagainstIllinoisisnotrealgood.TheSpartanswononwillandguts,andaresponsibilitytothepast.Theywoninordertoprotectthepossibilitythatnextweek'sSpartanswillcontinuetogrow.
TheymanagedtomakeitacrossthisricketyboardonthebridgetoMarch.IfthesunalsorisesandcontinuestoshineintothewindowsoftheBreslinCenterandontothecourtforpracticesinmid-Marchandbeyond-Izzo'sfavoriteaspectofspringbloom-thenrememberthisnight,andthestormthatthehobbled,flu-bittenSpartansweatheredonFeb.19.
"Ithoughtitwasatotalteamgritwin,"Izzosaid,"Ourteamdefenseisgettingtobebetter,ourbigshavehelpedsome,ourguardsaredoingabetterjob.IfwecangetDurrellplayingconsistentlythatway,nowwecantakesomestepsbecausewehaveapointguardplayingasgoodasanybodyinthecountryrightnow.
"Toout-reboundthatteambyeight,getourturnoversdownto11andshoot54percentinthesecondhalf,thoseweresomeprettygoodthings.Wearedoingsomethingsyouhavetodotobeagoodbasketballteam.WhenyoucanplaythatgoodofDwiththetwobodies(RoeandGreen)wehadintherethatwerenotgood,Ithinkthatspeaksvolumesforthecharacter.Ithinkwearestartingtogetsomegritandcharacter.Alittlelate,butbetterlatethannever."
Next,MichiganStatewillplayatMinnesotaonTuesday.CanRoe'skneepossiblybeanybetter,just72hoursafterthisone?
"Delvon'skneewasprettygoodcomingin,"Izzosaid."Goingoutisanotherstory,afterthis."
Greenshouldbepasttheflu.Butwillotherscatchit?
IzzoreplacedSummersinthestartinglineupwithKebler.Keblerdelivered21functionalminutes.MSUwasup6-3whenSummers,GreenandAdreianPaynecheckedin.
Summerslogged24minutes,andplayedacceptabledefensemostofthetime,andgooddefenseonahandfulofoccasions.
Keblerhadzeroturnoversonthenight,althoughonballreversalwastippedintothebackcourtlateinthegameandnearlytakebackforacostlytouchdown.HemadeabaselinejumpertoputMSUup31-30earlyinthesecondhalf.KeblerplayedgooddefenseonRichmond,andattimesonMcCamey.
Keblerisn'tmuchofanoffensivethreat,butheisbecomingaworkablesidekickforLucas.Unlessaspecificsetplayisunderway,Keblerknowsthatifhegetstheball20feetfromthebasketheissupposedtogiveitrightbacktoLucasassoonaspossible.Overthecourseofagame,thisresultsinLucasgettingahandfulmoreopportunitiestoprobethedefense.
WithLuciousgoneandSummers'minutesonthedecline,Lucasdoesn'thaveasmuchoffensivetalentaroundhim.MoreoffensiveresponsibilityisbeingplacedonLucas.Butwithit,Lucasisalsogettingmoretimewiththeball,morechancestoattackandprobe,moreshotsasacatch-and-shoottwoguard,andmoreopportunitiestocreateshotsforinteriorplayerssuchasGreenandRoe,aswellasShermanandAdreianPayne.
Lucasisfreetoplaywithmoreurgencyandcreativity,withouthavingtoworryaboutsettingupwingforwardsfortheirrecommendeddailyallowanceofshotopportunities.Now,moreshotsandplay-makingresponsibilityarebeingfunneledthroughLucas.Hecanplaywithlessofaconscience.That'sagoodthing,asthisteamcontinuestomorphtowardsomethingthatcouldgiveIzzoaninterestingoutfitinthecomingweeks.
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Jim Comparoni Click Here to view this Link. is Publisher of SpartanMag.com and SPARTAN Magazine.
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