January 2, 1999
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A victory over Louisville has No. 13 Michigan State confident it's ready for the Big Ten season to begin.
"The intensity tonight was the most important thing. It was like a Big Ten atmosphere," said Michigan State forward Morris Peterson, who scored 23 points Saturday to help the Spartans beat Louisville 69-57 for their seventh straight victory.
"The crowd was really into this game, just like when we play a Big Ten team. They'd boo the calls and cheer us when we'd make a good play," he said. "The Big Ten season will be like that. It doesn't matter where you go, all the teams will play hard."
Guard Mateen Cleaves agreed.
"We had a lot of emotion tonight, playing a good team and it helped to have Steve Smith here," Cleaves said. "Nobody wants to play a bad game with him in the stands."
Smith, who played for the Spartans from 1987-91 and is a member of the Atlanta Hawks, had his uniform number retired at halftime.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo, who was unhappy with the team's performance after its victory over North Carolina-Asheville last Wednesday, was pleased Saturday.
"It was a great win for us, our players and our program," Izzo said. "I've been concerned with our shooting because I'm looking for perfection but I don't want to change the blue-collar approach. We won a lot of games last year with defense and rebounding. I thought we had more of a warrior mentality tonight."
Jason Klein had 13 points for the Spartans (11-3), who never trailed as the Cardinals (6-3) lost for the first time in five games.
Alex Sanders led Louisville with 16 points and Nate Johnson added 12. "They did the little things that make a difference between winning and losing," Louisville coach Denny Crum said. "They contested all our shots and dominated the boards. They beat us in every way. But we'll learn from this."
Crum said the Cardinals have to develop a different attitude for road games. "It's difficult to have the same mental approach on the road as at home," he said. "We haven't learned to carry the mental approach we've had at home on the road. When you're on the road you have to make things happen for you and we didn't do that. But I think we're still potentially a very good team."
Michigan State held a 34-24 halftime lead and Louisville never got closer than 42-35 after two straight baskets by Eric Johnson with about 15 minutes left in the second half.
The Spartans then scored six straight points, with Klein getting four, to go ahead 48-35. Michigan State held its biggest lead, 63-49, with 5:16 remaining after a 3-pointer by Peterson.
Michigan State opened the game with a 10-0 run, triggered by Klein's 3-pointer.
Louisville cut Michigan State's lead to 18-16 on a steal and layup by Sanders to cap a 7-0 spurt with 11 1/2 minutes left. The Spartans responded by outscoring the Cardinals 12-3 in the next 4 1/2 minutes to boost their lead back to 30-19. Peterson accounted for half of Michigan State's point during the run with two 3s.
Izzo started Peterson and A.J. Granger in place of Andre Hutson and Charlie Bell, who have struggled. It was the first time Bell hadn't started in 44 games covering his two seasons at Michigan State, but he played 25 minutes and had eight points and matched his career high with nine rebounds. Hutson came off the bench to play 20 minutes and had seven points and eight rebounds.
"I wanted to start a bigger lineup against (Louisville)," Izzo said. "I thought A.J. and Morris both played well and Charlie and Andre did a good job off the bench. I still think we have seven or eight starters and we'll keep playing like that."
Michigan State outrebounded the Cardinals 38-26, the 10th time the Spartans have outrebounded an opponent by at least 10 rebounds.
Michigan State committed a season-high 24 turnovers, but the Spartans compensated for that by holding Louisville to 43 percent shooting, its second-lowest mark of the season.
Michigan State officials estimated that a crowd of 8,000 braved the winter storm to attend the game, which was a sellout.
"I want to thank the fans for weathering the storm and coming out to the game. I'm going to name them honorary Youppers,"' said Izzo, a native of the Upper Peninsula town of Iron Mountain.