March 19, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
COLUMBUS - It was one of those games in which every lead appeared double in size.
So when Michigan State was in possession of an 11-point advantage - 22 in theory - over Saint Louis with just over 11 minutes left in Sunday's NCAA Tournament third-round game, there was little doubt the Spartans would win.
The Billikens didn't have the quick-scoring capability to close such a gap with so little time remaining, and the Spartans were homed in on their 10th Sweet 16 appearance in 15 seasons.
However, Saint Louis continued hanging around like crab grass - it couldn't be eradicated and it kept spreading. The Billikens, fueled by two 3-pointers by Kwamain Mitchell, outscored MSU 17-10 over the next eight minutes and trailed 51-49.
How the Spartans reclaimed control of the game is a tapestry of tenacity.
3:37 - MSU point guard Keith Appling, who's been getting open looks because Saint Louis is sagging on the Spartan big men, hits a jumper. 53-49.
3:18 - SLU's Mitchell scores on a layup. 53-51.
2:47 - Spartan do-it-all forward Draymond Green shake-and-bakes his own shot by backing away from Saint Louis defender Brian Conklin before drilling an 18-foot fall-away jumper. 55-51.
1:34 --Green has the ball near the left block, but his path to the basket is cut off, so he fires a perfect pass along the baseline to Appling, who makes an uncontested 3-pointer from the right corner. 58-51.
1:15 - MSU senior co-captain Austin Thornton makes two crucial free throws in response to a pair made by Conklin. 60-53.
1:04 - Green skies over everyone to rebound Mitchell's missed 3-pointer. He not only prevents a second-chance basket, he draws a foul. He misses the front end of the one-and-one, however. 60-53.
0:51 - Conklin is wide open on the left baseline and lofts a soft jumper that would get the Billikens back to within five, but MSU's condor-like center, Adreian Payne, soars to the ball and knocks it off course. 60-53.
0:06 - After another Mitchell 3-pointer makes it a one-possession game, Thornton swishes the second of two free throws. 65-61.
Green's impact on the outcome left no doubt in Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus' mind about where he and MSU stack up nationally.
"I think he's the best player in the country," Majerus said. "Is he the best potential player in the country? No, I'd take the kid (Anthony Davis) from Kentucky. But if I had to take a kid right now to win a National Championship, I'd take Draymond Green."
Majerus also recalled how in 2000, when his Utah team lost to the Spartans in the second round, he predicted they'd go on to win the NCAA title, which they did. He said MSU head coach Tom Izzo has a team that can win it all, again.
"Here's Michigan State, extraordinarily well-coached, unselfish guys who can create their own shots," Majerus said. "These aren't the nets (Izzo) wants to cut down, nor are the Elite Eight nets. He should be able to cut down the Final Four nets and I hope they do because they would be a great representative of the National Championship team and what the NCAA and the student-athlete stand for."