Feb. 26, 2012
EAST LANSING, Mich. -
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com On-line Columnist
For 33 years, it's been one of the most revered, and unreachable, milestones in the Michigan State University basketball record book.
1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
Only Jumping Johnny Green, with 1,062 points and 1,036 rebounds from 1956-59, and Greg Kelser, with 2,014 and 1,092 from '75-79, belonged to the elite club until Saturday night when they were joined by senior forward Draymond Green with 5:01 left in MSU's 62-34 victory against Nebraska.
With Kelser watching from his Big Ten Network analyst's chair at midcourt, Green's 10th and final carom, off a missed 3-point shot by freshman Cornhusker guard Josiah Moore, put him over the top.
It came in front of an exceptionally festive, but clued-in, Breslin Center crowd counting down the rebounds to history being made while seemingly basking in the euphoria of yet another stifling Spartan defensive performance that's about as close as a basketball team can get to pitching a no-hitter.
Fellow senior captain Austin Thornton said he could have made Green wait a little longer for No. 1,000 by snagging the ball before he reached it, but held back.
"We would have been fighting for that one," said Green, whose game-high 20 points put him at 1,369 for his career. "The rebounds mean more to me than the points. It's a complete effort category and that's what this program has been built around.
"To reach a category with greats like Johnny Green and Greg Kelser in it means a lot to me. (Kelser's) the guy who's the leading rebounder in this school's history and to be welcomed into the club by him means a lot too."
Coach Tom Izzo subbed Green back into the game one last time, with MSU leading by 27, to give him a chance to accomplish the feat on Spartan ground.
"It was a big deal," Izzo said. "I was hoping he'd get it while he was home because I thought he deserved it. More than scoring points, that's a very small club and one that I'm glad he got to celebrate it with our fans. It meant a lot to him, and so I was happy when he got that last rebound."
Green, who has an unsurpassed appreciation of Michigan State lore, had already distinguished himself from most of his predecessors when as a junior he joined Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Charlie Bell as the only Spartans to record triple doubles.
And if Green maintains his 10.3 rebound-per-game average in nine more games, he will leave as MSU's all-time leading rebounder.
"I told (Kelser) at the beginning of the year that `I'm chasing you for that that rebounding record,' "Green said. "And he said, `The game you get it, I'll be there.' "
The Spartans are playing the type of team defense capable of producing a postseason run Green would need at his current rate.
Michigan State allowed the fewest points since defeating Brown, 45-34, in the 2006-07 season opener. The Big Ten field-goal percentage defense leader also increased its lead, which was a hefty 0.27 percent before playing Nebraska, over Ohio State.
What's more, the steely defensive attitude is becoming ingrained in MSU's persona.
When Izzo removed the members of the primary playing group with 1:53 remaining, the Cornhuskers were making 31.1 percent of their shots. With walk-ons Anthony Ianni, Colby Wollenman, Joe Sweeny, Keenan Wetzel and Dan Chapman on the floor, that number dipped to 29.1 percent.
Despite the fact the outcome had long been decided, the fans remained invested in what was taking place on the court and celebrated each Michigan State rebound and Nebraska missed shot in the final moments.
"It is taking a life of its own," Izzo said. "I'm trying to figure out how, yet. I don't see us as this great defensive team like some we've had, but it's been happening now, by the numbers, game after game. I think they deserve some credit for it, I think my assistants deserve some credit for it.
"We've put a lot more into our scouting because we thought it was going to be so important because we don't have the guys who understand defense as well because we're so young. Our defense was pretty good both halves and I just hope it continues."
Unlike his coach, Thornton, who was right behind Green in the boxscore with nine points and five rebounds, wasn't at a loss for words when it came to explaining MSU's defensive prowess.
"It was something to watch, eh?" Thornton said. "One thing we've done a very good job with all year is being very solid defensively, forcing teams to take tough shots, cleaning up the rebounds, pushing the ball and getting out in transition.
"It's something we love to do. It's a fun thing being a part of this team because these guys love to sit down and defend. There's no question we do a great job of preparation. Give our coaches and our staff a lot of credit. They prepare us better than any team in the country - there's no doubt about that."
Green broke it down even further, while explaining how point guard Keith Appling sets the tone on defense even when he scores only two points, as he did against the Cornhuskers.
"That's how this program's been successful and we said we have to get back to that if we want to be a successful team," Green said. "When you have a point guard defending up there the way Keith does, you feel bad letting him down if you're just standing back there on the back line. When Keith's defending like that, he makes everything else go."
The seventh straight MSU victory, combined with Michigan's loss to Purdue, moved MSU closer to clinching a share of the Big Ten championship, which could happen today if Ohio State loses to Wisconsin in Columbus.
Green seemed almost oblivious to that possibility and instead focused on the next game at Indiana.
"Now we're playing for share of it, and if we can get a win on Tuesday then we can play for it outright," he said. "It feels good to put yourself one step closer, but once you gest satisfied you lose two in a row.
"So we just have to stay hungry and keep doing what we've been doing to win games."
Even if Izzo can't explain it.