Bob Wojnowski: Michigan State moves on, as defense snaps back to life just in time
Published in Basketball
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Michigan State Spartans weren’t snapping, not on this day, not with their sticky defense back. The only thing that snapped in Michigan State’s NCAA Tournament opener was one unfortunate clipboard, dismantled by a riled Tom Izzo. Oh, and one unfortunate USC offense, dismantled by waves of Green.
This was the tenacity the Spartans had been seeking and Izzo had been demanding. Their guards were swarming, their big men were helping out and every USC possession looked like an accident waiting to happen. When Michigan State’s 72-62 victory was complete Friday, Izzo looked as pleased as he’s looked in a long time, just in time.
“We got our mojo back,” he said with a satisfied smile. “We talked about it for two or three weeks. It’s no secret I haven't been pleased with our defense. And I'd say for 32 or 33 minutes, it was exceptional.”
Izzo seldom cares who scores for his team, and the points generally get spread around. In this one, it was more Joey Hauser, as he continued scorching with 17 points. When Hauser shoots like this, the Spartans have a 6-9 weapon most teams don’t possess. But more importantly, when the guards — Tyson Walker, A.J. Hoggard, Jaden Akins — are ball-hawking like this, the Spartans have a mentality many teams can’t match.
Next up is Marquette, the No. 2 seed in the East, and the Golden Eagles’ sped-up offense and turnover-inducing defense will be a challenge. But so was this, with the Spartans mere two-point favorites over USC.
They welcomed the Trojans to Big Ten basketball as only they can. It was a slog, 34-34 at the half, and MSU never minds a good slog this time of year. The scouting report was simple. Don’t let USC’s leading scorers, guards Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson, get comfortable. They’ve combined for almost half the Trojans’ points and are their leading 3-point shooters. And in Nationwide Arena Friday in front of mostly Spartan partisans — and some green-clad St. Patty’s Day stragglers — they were decidedly uncomfortable.
Early in the second half, Walker took over. He drove for one basket, then pushed the fast break that led to consecutive dunks by Carson Cooper. All of a sudden MSU’s lead was 49-40, and the Trojans were starting to crack.
“It’s not like we had to reinvent the wheel,” said Walker, who finished with 12 points. “We’ve played defense before; we just had to do it again. Those (USC) guys can score in bunches. It was just about slowing them down and making them make tough shots.”
They didn’t get many easy shots and didn’t make many tough shots. Ellis and Peterson combined to shoot 7 for 22, 1 for 7 on 3s Walker hounded Ellis into a 3-for-12 performance and helped force 11 USC turnovers.
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