Spartan Hoops Courtside: A Happy Birthday for Coach Izzo
Jan. 30, 2010
It's the best birthday wish Spartan head coach Tom Izzo could've asked for.
In a total team effort, fifth-ranked Michigan State remained undefeated in Big Ten play with a 79-70 victory over pesky Northwestern Saturday night at the Breslin Center.
The Spartans shot 52 percent from the field, out-rebounded the Wildcats 37-27, and only committed 10 turnovers.
"Believe it or not, I thought that was one of the more complete games we've played," Izzo said after the game.
And that's not even counting the dunks.
The game started with a perfect alley-oop pass from Chris Allen to Durrell Summers, and Summers soared above the rim before flushing it down. It was a perfect beginning for Summers, who went on to score a season-high 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting while picking up his third career double-double with 10 rebounds.
Nothing gets a rise out of the crowd more than a slam dunk, especially in the opening seconds of a half. Against the Wildcats, it happened both halves with alley-oops to Summers. It was not a coincidence.
"We started him (Durrell) off with a play we just thought, by scouting, that the dunk would be open, and it was," said Izzo.
"That's always a great spark for us to start off the game with a dunk," said Summers. "That just gets our energy flowing and the team just feeds off of that, and the crowd is going crazy...To start off the (second) half like that, it's even better, because the first five minutes of each half is key. By doing that, it got us going a little bit in the second half. Sometimes when you have a lead in the first half, you can come out relaxed and complacent, so I think that just told us, `yeah, let's keep going, let's open the game up.'"
"Durrell's got to learn that he's got to play with that emotion and he's got to let a little of that out so his teammates know what's going on," Izzo said. "I just think that's the key for him, and I'm going to keep grinding him until we get it out of him, because I think when we do, he's one of the better players in the whole league."
Summers led the team with three dunks. But none of Summers' jams were the ones that created the most buzz, both on the court and in the locker room. No, the most talked-about dunk belonged to Allen, whose half-tomahawk, half-windmill throwdown from the baseline over Northwestern's John Shurna dropped everyone's jaws and sent shockwaves throughout the Breslin Center. It was one of those immortal dunks that will be remembered for years.
"The only thing I was thinking about was that if he (Shurna) hit my arm, I was going to miss," Allen said of the dunk, which ranked No. 1 on ESPN Sportscenter's Top 10 Plays of the Day. "I could feel how high I was. I was like, `I can get it, as long as I come down hard.'...That's just an energy boost, instant adrenaline. I was juiced off of that."
On whether he caught the replay on the video board, Allen replied: "Nah, we were going over a play. Coach was like, `focus, focus.'"
Allen's teammates didn't need to see a replay. They saw it firsthand.
"That (dunk) was amazing," said Delvon Roe. "Me and Durrell were talking the play before that we had to get a dunk on Sportscenter, and then he just blew us out of the water, so we can't compete with that."
"I knew Chris had some bounce, but I'd never seen him take off like that in a game," Summers said.
"That definitely surprised me," said Kalin Lucas, who scored 23 points. "Most of the time, Chris dunks off of one (foot). For him to take off with two, and he cocked it back far, it was nasty."
Although the first half featured four ties and six lead changes, the Spartans opened the second half on an 18-4 run in the first seven minutes to take a 16-point lead, 48-32. In the midst of that run was the Allen dunk, which sparked a 7-0 run in itself. MSU remained in control throughout the second half, leading by as many as 15 points after two free throws by Roe made it 66-51 with 3:24 left.
Then, in a sequence eerily similar to the Iowa game, Northwestern closed the gap quickly, all the way to six points, 71-65, at the 1:25 mark. From that point, the Spartans hit 8-of-10 free throws, led by Lucas' 5-for-6 effort, to tame the Wildcats for the 79-70 triumph.
"I don't feel any pressure at all," Lucas said of going to the free-throw line, as he went 10-for-12 at the charity stripe to tie his career high for free throws. "It's just me going up there, it's something I practice all the time, so when I go up there I'm already used to it. When there's two or three minutes left in the game, someone has to go up there to the free-throw line and make a big shot, and I want to be the person to do that."
The win puts MSU at 9-0 at the halfway point of the Big Ten race, three games ahead of second-place Wisconsin and Illinois. But in the bigger picture, it was yet another milestone victory for Izzo. The 14-year head coach improved to 169-72 all-time in Big Ten action, good for a winning rate of .701 percent, which moves him into first place in winning percentage among Big Ten coaches with at least 10 years of service. Izzo passed Hall of Famer Bobby Knight, who finished his career with a .700 winning percentage in Big Ten games (353-151).
The night ended with the Spartan pep band playing "Happy Birthday", complete with the Izzone and the remaining fans on their feet, singing along, as Izzo was preparing for a post-game television interview. He waved to the fans before the cameras turned on. But if anything, it was the fans thanking him.
Once the interview was complete, Izzo started his way back to the locker room to congratulate his team. He walked off the court, on his birthday, with the highest winning percentage of any coach in Big Ten history. Happy Birthday indeed.
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