From his opening bucket where he drained a hook shot and pumped his fists as he ran back on defense, Derrick Nix was on his game. With the alumni Izzone at Breslin Center, it was all the senior center could hope for to put on a strong showing in the No. 20 MSU basketball team’s final non-conference matchup against Texas.
It took some of his teammates until the second half to get the memo, but when it happened, it was just was what the Spartans needed to grind out a victory in the team’s last game before the holiday break.
Nix finished with a career high 25 points and 11 rebounds in the game to give him the third double-double of his career, as the Spartans (11-2) topped the Longhorns (7-5), 67-56, to give the team its sixth consecutive victory. It was the most points for Nix since he scored 18 on March 16 against LIU-Brooklyn in the NCAA Tournament.
The Spartans opened the game on a 12-4 run largely because of their play in the paint. It was an effort that pulled the already enthusiastic crowd into the game as MSU grabbed the early edge.
However, after a turnover by sophomore guard Branden Dawson nearing the midway point of the half, the Longhorns seized the momentum. Starting with a 3-pointer by guard Julien Lewis, the Longhorns went on a 10-1 run, which turned into a 20-6 swing to send Texas into the locker room with a 33-28 lead.
Other than Nix, who shot 5-of-6 (83.3 percent) in the half, the rest of the team struggled with turnovers and only shot 6-of-21 (28.5 percent) from the floor, including 0-for-7 behind the 3-point line.
The Spartans opened the second half on an 8-0 run and later regained the lead on a free throw by junior center Adreian Payne.
As Texas threatened with a little less than 14 minutes to play, Nix was hit with a technical foul on what became a turning point of the game. Back-to-back shot blocks sent Nix to the floor, where he slammed his hand to the ground, emphatically calling for a foul. The act was enough to get Nix his first technical foul of the season, but it also rallied the fans to get behind the Spartan big man with a loud cheer.
From there, the Spartans never surrendered the lead and were ahead by as much as 10 points in the half.
The Longhorns, who defeated No. 23 North Carolina 85-67 on their home floor earlier in the week, threatened down the stretch with a 10-2 run and closed the lead to two points with about four minutes to play.
Yet a late jumper by junior guard Keith Appling and a dunk by Payne sealed the deal to allow Spartans to hang on.
Appling had 14 points and three assists while Payne picked up 13 points and seven rebounds on the afternoon. Dawson also chipped in six points and 10 rebounds in the winning effort.
As non-conference season comes to a close, the Spartans will hit the road for their Big Ten opener at 2 p.m. on Dec. 31 against Minnesota.