East Lansing, MI
The Michigan State Spartans don’t need any drama. They need to become workmanlike and win games. Well tonight’s Big Ten tilt with Illinois started with more drama.
I have told you since the last seconds of last year ticked away that leadership would be the issue on this team. I was right. Tonight senior captain Derrick Nix found himself sitting on the bench until the 10:38 point of the first half for what Izzo said was, “Missing an academic appointment or two.” According to Izzo Nix missed a class Friday and a tutor on Monday. Not good leadership.
That could shed light on a Tweet that Nix sent out on Tuesday saying, “I wish Elliot was still our academic advisor.” That was referring to MSU academic advisor Elliott Daniels who was the advisor for the basketball team until being moved to the football team.
The Spartans were two different teams tonight. They came out slow, disinterested and frankly more annoyed it seemed to have to play a game. The Illini came in wanting a fight. It showed the entire game.
In the second half it turned like a Rocky Balboa fight. The tired and disinterested Spartans came out on fire. They shot 42% in the first half, but an astonishing 88% in the second half.
This team is void of leaders, but that is no excuse with the talent and coaches to be void of a heart. Izzo must have peeled the paint in the locker room at the half, because MSU came out on fire. Whatever Izzo said I am sure wasn’t FTC compliant and probably illegal in France, but it worked.
A 14-0 start to the second half gave the Spartans the lead thanks to gutsy basketball led by Keith Appling, and away the #9 team in the country went.
Minus Gary Harris (back spasms) and Travis Trice (hit to his already injured nose and a previous concussion) for a significant amount of time, avoiding the loss was a major accomplishment. You can thank new Captain Keith Appling for that.
Updates on both players were simple after the game. Izzo said of Trice that he could be out a while after taking a knee to the head. He also said he has, “No clue,” on Harris.
Appling lit up the court scoring, on defense, with and without the ball. He was amazing and finished with 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Izzo said of the play of Appling, “Keith, if you look at his stats they don’t lie.”
Illinois head coach John Groce said of the Spartans junior point guard, “I thought he was terrific. He was the best player on the floor. Does a great job making his teammates better. One thing I really like is the amount of plays he makes at winning time. He has that swagger.”
The biggest thing I saw from Appling tonight came at the 12:38 point of the second half. Appling yelled encouragement at Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson to pick up their defensive intensity. Izzo said of his maturation in that way, “Keith has to do preventive maintenance, not just crisis.”
Izzo said of the game, “We took a giant step backward in the first half. Inexcusable effort and performance in the first half and then in the second half we regrouped. Our kids came out and played hard. We found a way to win; I think we have some guys that showed they can’t handle success. That is a lack of leadership. What went wrong is they worked harder than us. They got ever loose ball.”
Groce and his Illini showed what the future will look like under the first year coach’s leadership. They are three point shooters, but they are battlers and fighters. He said of his team’s performance that, “Game was won the first four or five minutes of the second half. They came out and punched us in the mouth.”
The Spartans had nine first half turnovers, and six in the second half. Gary Harris also added 14 points as did Denzel Valentine. Branden Dawson was the only other Spartans in double figures and he had 12.
The Spartans have six days off before returning to Big Ten action on February 6, 2013 here at the Breslin. They will face Minnesota at 7PM for a game to be televised on BTN. You may remember that the Spartans lost to the Gophers in Minneapolis on December 31, 2012 76-63.