Jan. 10, 2007
The 6-foot-8 sophomore forward came off the bench to score 16 points and didn't miss a shot in 26 minutes to lift his team past Northwestern 66-45 in what, to Izzo, was a must-win game.
"Coach said it was normal to feel that everyone was kind of panicky," Gray said of the Spartans (14-4, 1-2 Big Ten). "Coach never tries to make one game more important than another. But he told us this game was very important."
Gray responded by going 7-for-7 from the field and 2-for-2 at the line. He scored just 13 points in Michigan State's losses last week at Iowa and Indiana.
"Marquise played better," Izzo said grudgingly of a player who considers him a father figure. "Marquise is a good player. We talked about that last night, about bringing it the whole time. When he does, he's very good. But I'm not going to lie and say I'm not hesitant to give him too much credit. Some guys can't handle it."
Gray said his coach's tepid endorsement was frustrating, but: "You've got to realize what he's trying to do. He sees a lot of potential in me. And I'm just trying to show it to him."
Drew Neitzel had 18 points for the Spartans to lead all scorers and reach double-figures for the 17th game in a row, despite just 1-for-4 shooting in the first half.
Vince Scott scored 11 points for the Wildcats (10-6, 0-3), who lost to Michigan State for the 20th straight time in East Lansing and the 35th time in 37 meetings.
"Any time you play them, you wonder how you're going to match up physically," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "At least we do. And they destroyed us on the backboards in the first half, 21-4. I don't care much about offensive rebounds. We know we're not going to get them anyway. We try to make up for that by limiting our turnovers. And their team had 11 of them in the first half. But they did a better job after that."
The Spartans trailed 5-2 when Gray stole a lazy pass and went the length of the court for the first of his five dunks. Michigan State surged from there and built a 32-22 halftime lead.
"After a poor start, Marquise's dunk really got us going," reserve center Drew Naymick said of five turnovers on his team's first five possessions. "We did a pretty good job of bouncing back after the first five minutes."
The final rebounding advantage was 37-13, with Naymick grabbing six boards and four Spartans teammates collecting five apiece.
"That's a remarkable stat," Izzo said. "The only other time I remember a half like that was at Seton Hall. I'm not sure we deserve all the credit for that. But we'll take some of it. And against a team that's as tough to play against as Northwestern, a 20-point win is really good. It wasn't beautiful. But it'll help us."