Commentary

Michigan State fights back Spartan-style

Originally Published: March 27, 2009
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Down 60-55 to defending national champion Kansas, clock ticking to three minutes left. Season slipping away. Detroit dreams dying.

In that dire circumstance, Michigan State did what Michigan State does best.

It grabbed every rebound. It made every stop. It won a game that appeared lost.

"Kind of Spartan basketball," said the architect of that hard-edged style, Tom Izzo.

[+] EnlargeGoran Suton
Jerry Lai/US PresswireEvery time Michigan State needed a big rebound, the Spartans came through.

How Spartanesque were the final three minutes? Consider what transpired from 60-55 onward:

Michigan State grabbed seven straight rebounds.

Michigan State held Kansas without a field goal.

Michigan State made two steals.

Michigan State's best player, Kalin Lucas, made a spectacular three-point play.

Michigan State made six of its final seven free throws.

Michigan State won 67-62.

"I'm really proud of the way our guys fought back, when they could have died a few times," Izzo said.

The Spartans will die another day. Or not. There may be no killing them, although Sunday opponent Louisville looked like a monster in destroying Arizona.

One thing the Cardinals cannot count on is Sparty rolling over. Izzo teams don't do that.

And this Izzo team, despite enduring a season of aches and pains and illnesses that threatened to scuttle its potential, was especially tough at a tough moment Friday night.

"I've got some guys that just didn't want to lose," Izzo said.

State looked primed to lose in the first half, falling behind by 13. (Izzo's assessment: "We stunk.") But they clawed back to cut it to seven at halftime on a jumper by Goran Suton that initially was waved off but reinstated after replay review.

That headed off a rather nasty locker-room scene.

"We were really going to have it out," Izzo said.

Instead they kept it relatively calm, rallied after the break and were in a dogfight until Kansas gained the upper hand late.

I've got some guys that just didn't want to lose.

-- MSU coach Tom Izzo

After Kansas' tremendous guard Sherron Collins made a difficult fallaway jumper for that 60-55 lead, Michigan State fell back on its old staple: It assaulted the glass. On a night when the Spartans were uncharacteristically whipped on the backboards for the first 37 minutes, they owned them in the final three.

Draymond Green missed a layup. Suton missed a follow. Someone else attempted a stickback amid the tall timber. Then sophomore Durrell Summers rose to tip the ball in. Sparty had life, down 60-57.

On Kansas' possession, Brady Morningstar missed a 3. Suton corralled the carom.

When Lucas missed a drive, the Spartans battled to keep the ball alive, and it went out of bounds off the Jayhawks.

After Summers missed the second of two free throws, he tracked down the rebound.

Those boards gave Michigan State life. Then Lucas closed the show.

Down 60-58, he drove from the wing and spotted Raymar Morgan alone on the block as Kansas behemoth Cole Aldrich rotated to stop Lucas. Lucas confidently passed to Morgan, who was playing a miserable game in what has been a miserable season.

Morgan hasn't been the same player in the second half of the year after being diagnosed with pneumonia and mono. Then, on this night, he was gushing blood from his nose after being popped in the second half.

But there he was at crunch time, rising to dunk the ball for his only field goal and tying the game.

"I had enough faith to go back to him at the end," Izzo said.

[+] EnlargeKalin Lucas
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesKalin Lucas was money down the stretch, hitting the go-ahead shot late.

After forcing a Collins turnover on defense, Michigan State came back down with the score tied and called timeout with 1:07 left. Whatever Izzo designed in the timeout, it didn't work -- so with the shot clock draining, Lucas waved his teammates to the baseline in a 1-4 flat alignment and went to work on Collins.

Collins has a championship ring and has received more pub than Lucas this season. Don't think Lucas didn't know it.

"He wanted to kind of prove himself to the nation," teammate Travis Walton said. "Today, I think he took it personal."

Lucas took this moment personally. With no screens and nobody else in the way, he pounded the ball and went to work on Collins.

This was the ultimate mano-a-mano moment. Two guys, one basket, one huge play.

Lucas spun into the lane and pump-faked. Collins soared, but tried to control his body and avoid fouling Lucas.

"We would have been better off fouling the crap out of him," Kansas coach Bill Self said.

Lucas leaned in, got the contact, sunk the shot, got the call. Then he made the free throw. The Spartans had the lead back for the first time in nearly eight minutes at 63-60. They wouldn't relinquish it again.

"He's got a little swagger," Walton said of Lucas. "When you've got a swagger to you, you want the ball at the end of the game. … We want the ball in his hands."

Lucas kept the ball most of the rest of the way, icing the game with four free throws. At the end, his stat line looked better than Collins': 18 points, seven assists, two turnovers, four steals; Collins finished with 20 points, three assists, six turnovers and no steals.

Lucas was far from the only hero in green and white. Senior Suton was tremendous in his matchup with Aldrich, racking up 20 points, nine rebounds and five steals. (Aldrich more than upheld his end of the bargain with 17 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and four blocks.) Summers had nine points and five rebounds off the bench. Everyone did just enough to offset starting forwards Morgan and Delvon Roe combining for four points and two rebounds.

Now, Michigan State is 40 minutes from Motown. When the Spartans returned to their hotel Friday night, Izzo was ready to use that as motivation. He's kept it out of the conversation for months.

"We're going to waste about 10 minutes talking about that," Izzo said. "I've been waiting all frickin' year to do that."

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

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