Spartan Hoops Courtside: One More Win For A Big Ten Title
March 5, 2010
It was a wild and frantic finish, complete with loose balls, clutch shots, costly turnovers, key free throws and most of all, drama.
But in the end, MSU moved just one game away from its second straight Big Ten title by holding off a pesky Penn State team, 67-65, Thursday night at the Breslin Center.
As in all close games, the outcome was decided in the final tense, suspenseful minutes.
After the Spartans relinquished a 10-point lead in the second half, no team led by more than four points down the last 7:30 of the contest.
MSU was stuck on 56 points for nearly five minutes following Durrell Summers' 3-pointer that made it 56-46 with 9:28 to play. In the process, the Nittany Lions clawed back and eventually took the lead on a 3-pointer by Chris Babbs at the 5:51 mark.
Penn State might have entered the game last place in the Big Ten standings, but it was doing all it could to prevent Michigan State from reaching the top of them.
That's when Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green stepped up and took over the game for Michigan State. Morgan and Green teamed up to score 10 of MSU's last 11 points, including a dunk from Green that tied it at 62 with a little more than two minutes remaining. They proved to be an effective answer inside to Penn State's 1-3-1 zone.
"Those two guys did a great job," said Spartan head coach Tom Izzo. "Every time we went in we wanted to put Raymar at the high post and sometimes we put Draymond there. They made good decisions and we need our inside guys to make good decisions. I give a lot of credit to those two guys for how they kept it together especially after that 10-point lead dissolved in it seems like a matter of seconds."
"We've both just been crashing the boards hard, taking it up and going up strong," said the birthday boy Green, who finished with 14 points and nine rebounds.
The Green-Morgan duo has combined for 58 points and 39 rebounds the past two games, as Raymar poured in a team-high 16 points on the night to go along with eight rebounds.
"In crunch time, we looked for each other a little bit," said Morgan. "I found him on a couple of plays where he was wide open, and I hit him."
Needing the defense to step up after Green's dunk, MSU halted Penn State on two consecutive possessions, sandwiched around two Morgan free throws that gave MSU the lead.
Up 64-62 with 27 ticks remaining, Izzo called a timeout to set up a play and control the tight situation at hand.
But he could have never drawn up what ensued.
In a crazy series of events out of the timeout, Summers inadvertently threw a pass to Penn State's David Jackson with 17 seconds left, but rather than capitalize on the mistake, the Nittany Lions fumbled the ball at the top of the key on their own end and a full-on scrum broke out for the ball. In the right place at the right time - as he has been all season - was Green, who tossed a lengthy pass to Morgan at the other end of the court. Morgan was fouled on his layup attempt, and proceeded to knock down two more free throws, the second one giving him his 1,500th career point. In doing so, he became just the fifth Spartan in program history to score 1,500 points and collect 700 rebounds.
More importantly in the short term, those two shots seemingly iced the game with a four-point lead at 66-62.
Not so fast.
Chris Babb drilled yet another Nittany Lion 3-pointer, their ninth of the game, to cut the lead to one at 66-65 with 6.2 seconds remaining.
Without a choice, PSU fouled Kalin Lucas on the inbounds pass. Lucas drilled his first attempt. 67-65 Michigan State.
With five seconds on the clock, Lucas tossed up his second try. It rattled off the rim, and was rebounded by Penn State guard and All-Big Ten candidate Talor Battle, a junior who led his team to a victory on this very same floor a year ago with several deep 3-pointers.
Battle rushed up the sideline looking for the game-winning shot, but was halted at the top of midcourt by Lucas. The precious seconds winding down, Battle side-stepped Lucas and looked to go to the middle of the court, only to be met by Green. Green kept pace with Battle and harassed him so much, he didn't even get a shot off in time. After the horn blew, Battle heaved a desperation half-court shot that harmlessly bounced off the backboard.
"Maybe the play of the night was Kalin cutting off Talor at the sideline," Izzo said. "The guy has some speed and he was going. And Draymond was smart enough to come back and almost double him, which he has done all year long. That was a heck of a play by Kalin and a heck of a play by Draymond."
With the clock reading zeros, the Spartans had survived. It's what championship teams do. Even on their off nights, they find a way to win the close games.
"We're going to play better on Sunday," Izzo emphatically said - repeatedly - in his post-game press conference.
As far as the preparation for the regular-season finale in the next couple of days, Izzo turned upbeat.
"We're going to have some fun," he said with determination. "I'm going to have some fun like I used to have some fun. At the end of it, there's going to be some people standing, playing their tail off, or they'll be some people not playing. I'm excited about it, I really am."
And so the stage is set. A Sunday showdown against archrival Michigan in the Breslin Center with an opportunity to claim a share of the Big Ten championship. In a Big Ten season that has featured nearly everything for this 2009-10 Spartan team, from a school-record league start and thrilling comeback road wins, to injuries and heartbreaking homecourt losses, to a chance for a second-straight league title for the first time in nine years, there couldn't be a better way to close it out.
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