For the 12th time in 17 Years Tom Izzo Takes His Spartans to the Sweet 16 While Leaving Harvard Behind: 80-73
Tom Izzo’s resume is amazing. It is so amazing that at times you can’t see the forest for the trees when you read it. Tonight his Spartans punched their 12th ticket to the Sweet Sixteen in Izzo’s 19th year. Other than Izzo’s first two years (NIT), the Spartans have made it to the dance the ensuing 17 straight seasons. Now they head to New York City with their eyes set on Dallas and the Final Four.
Neither team came out hot. The teams missed their first seven shots from the field to open the game. When the Spartans got rolling they were on fire for the fifth game in a row. The Spartans scored nine of the game’s first 11 points. They ended the game scoring 17 of the final 28 and winning 80-73.
They could do nothing wrong and had a 12 point lead 45-33. Credit Harvard for not quitting. With each dagger the Spartans planted in them they kept coming, they kept fighting. The Spartans took their foot off the gas and the Crimson pounced taking a two point lead with 7:12 left. That was as far as they could go.
Tom Izzo said afterwards about the Crimson comeback that, “When they went up or when we were down, when they caught up, I was disappointed because we weren’t executing as well as we needed to execute. A couple big play, momentum shifts. I thought Adreian had a couple shots down there that normally go in, didn’t. I thought we got a little complacent. I said the greatest thing that happened for me is we did enough bad things, and give Harvard some credit for that, mostly the 10 turnovers in the second half. But, we found a way to bounce back and win, and so it’s always a better learning experience when you win and do some things that will maybe get their attention now in the film session tomorrow night or whenever we start doing it.”
Keith Appling saw the lead the Crimson had and admitted to me in the locker room that, “I was scared. One loss and my career was over.”
Izzo said, “I thought it was a heck of a game and there’s enough adversity in it, we played so well early, one turnover the first half is a record for us. I thought our break was so good and Gary and Zel were hitting Branden on that break and they both had four assists the first half. We were running well and playing real well. I think you got to give Harvard a lot of credit. I kept telling my guys two things, and my staff, when we’re up 12, 13, to start a second half it seemed like we were up 16, 18 and I said every time I sit down I said we’re only up 12. And they said yeah and I told these guys, they’re going to keep hanging around.”
Gary Harris thought that there was some things to learn from his teams mental lapse. Appling called it, “A lack of focus,” and Harris said, “We have to know the time, the score and time of the game. We have to be smart when we have a lead. That’s the time where we have to bear down and defense, just be more cognizant of what we’re doing on offense and taking better shots so we don’t give them time for them to come back and take a lead like they did today.”
Branden Dawson described the letdown more succinctly saying, “Honestly, I think we kind of dug ourselves a hole tonight and we got comfortable with our lead. So from this game I think we so should have to know to keep playing solid and don’t get comfortable with a big lead.” Dawson’s 26 points were a career high for him.
Tommy Amaker the Harvard coach had nothing but praise for the Spartans. One of the classiest men in sports said, “I want to congratulate Michigan State. They certainly are an incredible basketball team. I think we talked about going into this game, how talented and balanced that their ball club is. I thought that they were coming together and jelling very well. You saw that on display, I thought, very early in the first half.”
Amaker wasn’t done praising the Spartans. “How explosive they are, they got out in transition, and I thought that was really one of the bigger keys. That they put us on our heels right away and then, certainly, put us in a big deficit and a big hole. I can’t say enough about our team and the effort and the guts that they showed in the second half to make a run, to take the lead, to play with so much composure and poise and fight. I was so proud to see that happen. They have played that way all year for our program. We have had an amazing season. These three kids up here right now, with what they did, certainly this evening was outstanding. I’m proud of our program, proud of our team.”
He continued with, “But certainly we want to congratulate Michigan State and how they played and certainly the way they played and especially in the interior and transition. I thought they just got the ball inside so early, and up the floor in transition, and was very explosive. So just a wonderful effort by our team, but certainly you got to play perfect basketball to be able to pull a game out like that, being in a deficit that we were.”
Harvard star Brandyn Curry echoed his coach’s class and sentiments. Talking about battling back before the Spartans put them down for the count. Curry said, “Yeah, that was definitely one thing we wanted to do, was put game type pressure on them. We felt like so far in that game that we hadn’t really challenged them. It was kind of easy for them with all the shots and layups they were getting. So, we wanted to really challenge them. And they responded like great teams do. They didn’t lose composure, they came down, I think, it’s twice to hit a really clutch three. Because it’s easy for, at that moment, where they have been winning the whole time and we make that big run for a team to cave in.”
Curry finished with, “And that’s just a sign of a great team. And that’s what they are. Coach Izzo, Michigan State, they always have a great team and they showed it right there.”
Dawson said of this team’s win that, “Honestly, I think it was a huge test for us and it all falls back from the Michigan game at home and away, and Illinois game, when I think, as a team, we got down as a team and we started blaming each other and started pointing fingers. So, I think, honestly, this is definitely a big test for us because we stayed poised, we just kept fighting as a team. So, I think that we were happy to get better at our mistakes and just keep playing hard.”
On the night the Spartans won the battle of the boards 18-17. The Spartans only had one turnover in the first half and ended with 11 for the game. The Spartans had 17 assists on 28 baskets while shooting 48% from the field. The Spartans D held the Crimson to 41% shooting.
I already mentioned Dawson had 26 and Gary Harris had 18 and Adreian Payne dropped 12. Dawson also led in rebounds with nine. Denzel valentine had nine assists to lead the Spartans and Harris added five and also had three steals. Gary Harris needs three points to become the 45th player in MSU history to score 1,000 career points.
Harris was asked if this team should be worried that they didn’t blow Harvard out. He said, “At this point in the season we’re not worried about blowing anybody out. It’s survive and advance. And that’s what we did this weekend. We survived and we’re advancing. So, at this time of the season it’s just, it’s all about winning no matter how we do it, just get the win.”
Late in the game Spartan fans held their breath when it looked like Branden Dawson had hurt his hand again. Izzo was asked after the game for an update. He put the fears to rest. He said, “I think he wanted some sympathy, personally, and he hasn’t been on the floor diving on the floor for six months. So you think he just wanted to enjoy the moment and he laid there a little bit and he you didn’t see me running out there. Because if it was broke I would have said you’re still playing, I’m tired of these injuries.”
He went on to add, “I don’t think he hurt it at all. I think he just hit it and it was sore. But it wasn’t anything to deal with the break or anything. So, no, he’s good. You can’t score that many points and get hurt even if you wanted to. So he’s fine.”
The Spartans will return to action Friday at the basketball Mecca known as Madison Square Garden.