Spartans use second half run to pull away from Purdue in Big Ten home opener
As he watched video with his team in the locker room at halftime, something wasn’t sitting right with Tom Izzo.
After watching Branden Dawson lack effort in rotating to play defense and not run at full speed at times during the first half, Izzo hurled the video remote across the room and challenged his sophomore guard and the rest of the team for a better showing.
The act seemingly sparked Dawson and the No. 18 Spartans (12-3 overall, 1-1 Big Ten), as they used a second half run to open up a double-digit lead against Purdue (7-7, 1-1) and come away with an 84-61 victory in the team’s Big Ten home opener.
Freshman guard Gary Harris led the way with a career-high 22 points, two assists and a steal while draining six 3-pointers in the game. Dawson finished the game with his fifth career double-double, with 14 points and 11 rebounds and was one of five Spartans to finish the game in double figures in scoring.
“(Dawson) played with tremendous energy and we were able to just follow him,” Harris said. “We just feel we all got a spark from him playing and we were able to extend the lead out in the second half in the last 10 minutes.”
The teams traded shots from beyond the arc to open the game, which appeared to set a precedent for perimeter shooting, particularly for the Spartans.
In the featured smaller lineup – with Harris, junior guard Keith Appling and sophomore guard Travis Trice on the floor for periods of time in the half – Harris and Trice benefitted from efficient transition offense, combining for all five of the Spartans’ shots from deep.
Nearing the end of the first half, the Spartans used a 7-0 run, highlighted by a 3-pointer by Harris at 4:44, to go up by six. After holding the Boilermakers without an offensive field goal for the final three minutes, MSU carried a 36-30 lead into halftime.
“I asked (Gary) Harris to be more aggressive and I thought he played a heck of a game, and I thought Travis Trice did an unbelievable job, and as crazy as it sounds being 2-for- 6 (from the field),” Izzo said. “Keith Appling ran our team pretty good, he had eight assists, he had one turnover, he was getting pressure and he made proper decisions.”
The second half started off in strange fashion, as the teams traded fouls to grind the pace to a halt.
Yet with the game tied at 39, the Spartans busted the game open with an impressive 20-4 run, which built a double-digit lead with about nine minutes to play.
From there, the team never looked back and walked off the Breslin Center floor with a sizable victory in Big Ten play.
Freshman center A.J. Hammons had a standout game for the Boilermakers, finishing with 20 points and seven rebounds while causing trouble in the paint for senior center Derrick Nix and junior center Adreian Payne for much of the afternoon.
“I thought we could have given a lot more effort out there but I feel like we executed our offense,” Nix said. “You know, as bigs, we missed a lot of easy shots today but give (Hammons) credit. He can play and I didn’t think he’d be a good as he was and he brought it to us. Purdue got a pretty solid team; we just gotta play a little harder, a little smarter.”
The Spartans return to the floor on the road Wednesday against Iowa (7 p.m., ESPN2) before returning home Jan. 13 against Nebraska.