Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans basketball team managed to achieve their sixth consecutive double digit victory over a young and talented Texas Longhorns squad, 67-56. The Spartans trailed for a good portion of the game, but in the end Michigan State imposed their will on a team that has struggled to find an identity all season.
Saturday’s game at the Breslin Center appropriately mirrored the crowd that occupied the Izzone: they were lethargic to start, but once they got their rhythm it was like riding a bicycle. While most of the students were home with family for the holiday break, MSU’s campus still found a way to come alive as alumni from around the state piled in to the arena to cheer on their Spartans.
Lethargic, with the exception of Derrick Nix, doesn’t even begin to describe the Spartans in the first half. Their sets looked sloppy, their curls looked slow, and they let the shot clock run dangerously low on almost every possession without accomplishing much. The sad part is, that was only from the offensive end. Defensively they were worse, but a half-time pep talk from Tom Izzo was all they needed to get going.
The big story of the game though was the biggest man on the court: Derrick Nix. Perhaps in the best game of his career as a Spartan, Nix put up a career high 25 points to go along with 11 boards and 3 steals. “He’s grown up a lot,” said Izzo after the game, and with numbers like that who can argue?
Nix wasn’t the only big man to contribute in a big way though. Adreian Payne showed off with a few highlight moves of his own, posting 13 points off the bench. His turn-around jumpers and monstrous dunks demonstrate just how dangerous he can be on the floor.
State was in danger of relapsing with about seven minutes left, but they did what good teams do: close out games. They hit their free throws down the stretch, going 23-30 for the game, 11-13 from a career 50 percent foul shooter in Derrick Nix. They were patient and wore down the shot clock, and when it was needed they established their presence down low and hit important shots.
For a team that was initially thought to live and die by their guard play, it’s nice to see State basketball find different ways to win the game. The versatility they found against Texas will do wonders for them come Big Ten play, especially in this case with the conference having an emphasis on physical play in the paint.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time – Big Ten play starts on New Year’s Eve at “The Barn” against #13 Minnesota.
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