Spartans embrace 'survive and advance' with defensive play over Penn State
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Survive and advance, the certified slogan of college basketball tournaments. MSU men’s basketball did just that, stonewalling the Penn State Nittany Lions 78-51.
For MSU, the month of March has been one dominated by its conductor, Tom Izzo. Celebrated for his current tournament streak, his impressive ability to reach Final Fours and hard nose defense, Izzo has had a shakier year than usual. Now as the season hits the “win or go home” phase, his Spartans picked up their cap, dusted it off and hung it on their defense.
“We’re mismatching a lot of things try to cheat those coverages,” Izzo said. “But I thought it was one of our best defenses. I’m sure, at the same time, they had some shots they felt were good enough, and they just didn’t go in.”
The Spartans held the Nittany Lions to 16-55 shooting from the floor just 29 percent. From 3-point territory, PSU was 4-15 for 26.7 percent.
Traditionally, the Nittany Lions do not shoot the ball at a very high percentage as they rank third to last in field goal percentage and fourth to last in 3-point percentage.
However, a strength for Penn State, is their ability to have multiple athletes score in double digits. Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens, Shep Garner and Payton Banks all average in double figures. Mike Watkins sits just 0.2 points below the double figures line at 9.8 points per game.
Against MSU, Carr and Stevens both scored 16 points, but that equaled 62.7 percent of the total team points.The Nittany Lions averaged about 74 points per game, but they finished but MSU's stifling defense was able to hold them well under that mark.
PSU came into the game off an overtime victory against Nebraska, where Watkins scored 18 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and set a record for most blocks in a Big Ten Tournament game with 8, allowing fatigue to have played a possibly large role in the Nittany Lions' ability to get up and down the court.
MSU used a combination of freshman forward Nick Ward and redshirt sophomore Kenny Goins to hold Watkins for 6 points and 5 rebounds.
“Just coming into the tournament it’s hard to prepared for as many teams you think you’ll face or even two teams you’ll potentially face,” Goins said, “You just really have to know that offense will be hard, you’re playing on NBA rims, they’re hard rims, defensively is where you have to crack down and win games. We had a scouting report, we stuck to it and we stuck to their tendencies.”
Freshman guard Joshua Langford, sophomore guard Matt McQuaid and senior guard Alvin Ellis III rotated to bunker down against Garner and Banks. They would score 6 points and 3 points, respectively.
“When we defend we usually beat our opponent,” Langford said. “At the end of the day, you can’t really control whether the ball is going in or out of the hoop. You just have to control your effort, your attitude and your focus on defense.”
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MSU will have to switch gears and prepare for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, another balanced team playing well as of late.
“It’s just a blanket, you have to cover all aspects, guards, bigs,” Goins said. “Obviously you’re going to play to the superstars and who is playing the best, but at the end of the day, you have to guard all five guys on the court because anyone of those guys can go off.”
MSU will play Minnesota for a third time this season, where they are 2-0 against the Golden Gophers. That game will tip-off at approximately 2 p.m. and be televised on ESPN.
Last time these two teams played, freshman forward Miles Bridges chipped in 16 points, but junior Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr. and freshman guard Cassius Winston combined for just 4 points. The Spartans rolled easy at home, 65-47.
“It’s win or go home now,” Winston said. “You have to have your defense going each day. We don’t have any more opportunities or second chances or anything like that so we have to bring it every night.”