Jan. 12, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. - With 3:48 remaining in the second half of Tuesday night's game against No. 20 Wisconsin, Michigan State emerged from its huddle and back onto the Breslin Center floor down nine points, 49-40, with one of the stingiest defenses in the nation awaiting them.
There are rarely must-wins in January, but this was feeling eerily close to just that for the Spartans, who entered the game at 10-5. Perhaps the only people who believed a comeback was even possible were the only ones that mattered.
"We told ourselves we're not losing, and that there's still time to take over and win this game," said Kalin Lucas.
But more than a minute later, the deficit remained the same. Two Badger free throws jumped their lead back to nine with just 2:37 reading on the clock.
"In that situation, if you believe you're down and out, then you're down and out," Green said. "That's one thing we never did."
He started the rally with a 3-pointer, then went down on the defensive end, blocked a shot and grabbed the rebound. That Spartan possession led to a Lucas free throw to make it 53-48 with 1:14 left.
Following a Wisconsin timeout, the Spartans put the press on the Badgers, and Delvon Roe forced a steal just past halfcourt. Mike Kebler scooped up the ball, dished it to Korie Lucious, who then quickly passed it to Keith Appling up the floor. Appling slammed home the gift to a raucous Breslin crowd that was suddenly believing. It was now a one possession game with one minute to go.
With the Spartan press back on, the usually sure-handed Badgers uncharacteristically threw the ball away - again. A team that was averaging only eight turnovers a game had coughed it up twice in five seconds. Things just kept lining up for Michigan State.
Needing a 3 to tie, Green drove, then found a wide open Lucious in the corner. Spartan fans had seen this before.
"Give credit to my teammate for finding me - I was ready to shoot, and it went in," Lucious calmly said regarding his dramatic 3-point shot that knotted the game at 53, just like he did at the buzzer in the win over Maryland in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season. "It always feels great to give the team an extra boost."
All even, amid a deafening roar from the Izzone.
The Spartans somehow managed to score nine straight in less than two minutes on a team giving up only 55.2 points per game.
But that was just to tie.
After a stellar defensive effort that forced a Wisconsin shot clock violation, MSU had 12 seconds for a chance to win it in regulation. A frantic series of events saw Lucas get his layup blocked, the Badgers throw the ball away for the third time in a minute, and Austin Thornton toss up a desperation 3 at the buzzer to no avail.
In overtime - Green's first of his career at the Breslin Center - he continued to go to work.
On MSU's first possession, he retrieved an offensive rebound and put it back up for a layup that tied it at 55. He then responded to a Jordan Taylor jumper with a 3-pointer of his own to give MSU its first lead, 58-57, since early in the second half.
Following another Badger turnover, Green found himself at the line, converting on both of his attempts to give MSU a 60-57 lead.
Coach Tom Izzo claimed earlier this week that when Green's playing well, the team's playing well. When he's struggling, so is the team. This game proved Izzo prophetic with that statement.
"I knew that I wasn't playing that good in the first half," said Green, as the Spartans scored a season-low 20 points going into halftime. "When we walked onto the court (for the second half), I said `Kalin, I know I've been in a slump, but I'm about to come out of that slump right now.' And if you look at the game, every chance he could, he passed me the ball. He helped me come out of that slump."
Unfortunately for Green, it went from good - seven straight points and a three-point lead - to not-so-good, in a hurry. After his free throws, he fouled Badger guard Josh Gasser in the paint, who promptly converted it into a three-point play to tie the game at the 2:25 mark. Green then turned it over on MSU's next possession.
But instead of getting frustrated with himself, Green knew too much was on the line. He bounced back on defense, blocked his second shot of the game, and hit a free throw on the opposite end to give MSU a slight 61-60 lead. Green scored eight consecutive in the extra session and poured in 21 of his career-high 26 points in the second half and overtime. He also produced career bests in free throws (seven), 3-pointers (three) and minutes (38).
Wisconsin split a pair of free throws to the game at 61, setting the stage for the final minute. It would be the last points the Badgers could muster against the Spartan defense.
While Green had kept pace with Wisconsin in overtime, it was Lucas who delivered the final blows with three clutch free throws in the closing seconds to seal the 64-61 victory for the Spartans.
"It felt good, it's something I work on every day," Lucas said of making his free throws. "Game on the line, I just told myself straight up, straight down, don't lean back, don't twist, don't do any of that, just make sure you're straight up and straight down. And they both went in."
Before Lucas made his last two from the line with just two seconds left, Green was back to his smiling ways, walking down the court, waving his arms up and down to the standing crowd. This was the joyous Draymond Green Spartan fans had grown accustomed to seeing.
"We believe in ourselves - one thing we have is togetherness," Green said. "This program has been built around family, which means we're one big family. As long as we believe in ourselves and stick together, we think we can do anything."
It wasn't pretty, but it's not supposed to be pretty when Michigan State and Wisconsin meet. Besides, tonight wasn't about style for Michigan State. It was about finding a way to win a close game against a tough, physical opponent. And the Spartans, in the most difficult of circumstances, answered the call.
"Maybe the most important thing to me is that we talked about having a character check," Izzo said. "I have never seen a bunch of guys get knocked down more times than they got knocked down. In every huddle, they still thought they could win. We haven't solved all of our problems, and we are not ready take on the world, but we did take a big step in kind of learning something about ourselves."