Spartans execute, eliminate 'my bad's' in second-round win over Penn State
WASHINGTON D.C. — The Spartans were a different team when they played Penn State on Jan. 7 at the Palestra.
It was a 72-63 loss on a neutral floor. MSU couldn't stop Penn State's Lamar Stevens, Mike Watkins, or Tony Carr from scoring double-figures. Penn State's bigs crashed the glass on both ends of the court and out-rebounded the Spartans while the guards shot with a hot hand.
MSU had just received freshman forward Miles Bridges back, a work in progress before he returned to his pre-injury self. In No. 5 MSU's 78-51 blowout win over the No. 12 Nittany Lions Thursday, to advance to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, it was the Spartans who dominated.
The Spartans out-rebounded Penn State 44-29, scored 18 points on 11 turnovers and made 12 more baskets from the field with two more attempts than Penn State.
It was the freshmen who once again led the way for MSU — Bridges and forward Nick Ward each scored a team-high 15 while shooting guard Joshua Langford added 13. The three freshmen were the only Spartans to reach double-figure scoring, but the team grouped together to shoot 49.1 percent from the field with 10 threes. Defensively, MSU held Penn State to 29.1 percent field goal shooting, a season-low for the backcourt.
"They played much harder than the first time around," Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers said. "They've grown up a lot. Coach Izzo definitely has his mark on those two, for sure. They're competitive."
Carr and Stevens, however, still pestered MSU for 16 points each. Carr and Stevens combined for 10 of Penn State's 16 shots from the field. Nine of Carr's points came from the free-throw line, while he shot only 3-of-15 from the field.
Carr said even though the Spartans took the win from Penn State in blowout fashion, there wasn't a big difference in MSU's playstyle since their first meeting of the year in Philadelphia.
"I didn't see much change," Carr said. "They kind of played the same style, push it up the court fast, load up on defense, make things tough for you. I wouldn't say I saw much change in them. The outcome of the game just changed."
Langford, however, said the Spartans have changed significantly since their last meeting against Penn State, and have played smarter basketball more progressively as the season develops — especially the freshmen.
"Really, the freshmen, we aren't freshmen anymore," Langford said. "We're really sophomores. Everybody has been stepping it up, giving 120 percent."
Since MSU's first meeting with Penn State, the Spartans went 7-7 to finish the regular season. Without fifth-year senior Eron Harris, the growing pains of an increased role from senior guard Alvin Ellis III and sophomore guard Matt McQuaid are evident in marginal losses to Illinois and Maryland late in the season.
Izzo said after the game though the team has made growth all year long, there's still work to do. And with every game now potentially the last of the season, he said MSU has now choice but to flourish.
"We're a work in progress even today," Izzo said. "We're still working on the progress. We still went over two hours for every practice this week, which is a joke. But we did remove the diapers when the regular season ended, now we're trying to move forward from there. We're still looking at fundamental things."
With the win over the Nittany Lions, MSU will play No. 4 Minnesota, a team the Spartans have defeated twice this season, on Saturday. Izzo said the 'play-or-go-home' mentality has been what's motivated his team through with tournament play beginning to pick up tempo.
"We hammered on that in practice," Izzo said. "Every missed ball, every screw-up. Every player in America says, 'my bad.' You say 'my bad' in this tournament, you're usually going home. We just hammered on that for days. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, that was constant hammering."