Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Chain reaction

Healthy team is picking opportunistic time to gel

March 28, 2003
MSU freshman forward Erazem Lorbek shoots while Colorado guard Michel Morandais defends in the first period of State's first round NCAA game Friday in Tampa. Lorbek finished with a game-high 17 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals during MSU's 79-64 win. Sheila —

MSU's recent success is no secret. It's chemistry.

The Spartans seem visibly more comfortable now than they did all season. The offense has transformed from a sluggish, half-court show into a high-octane attack.

The recent mixture that would make any chemist proud has helped the Spartans (21-12) win seven of their last eight games while landing in the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in six seasons.

"I think the chemistry is coming along better now and it should be," sophomore guard Chris Hill said. "The injury thing kind of made it tough all year, especially when the new guys were injured. We hardly got a chance to play with them much.

"Then, throughout the season, with different guys going in and out, it makes it difficult to get a good flow and team chemistry."

The Spartans suffered a plethora of early-season injuries: Junior point guard Rashi Johnson, freshman center Paul Davis, sophomore guard Tim Bograkos and freshman guard Maurice Ager all suffered stress fractures of varying seriousness. Sophomore forward/guard Alan Anderson had an open dislocation of his pinkie just after he began running the team.

But for the last three weeks, the Spartans have been healthy. In MSU's tournament wins over 10th-seeded Colorado and second-seeded Florida, head coach Tom Izzo played 10 and 13 players, respectively. The depth has allowed Izzo to flood the court with his bench and play up-tempo basketball, while keeping everyone fresh.

"The biggest thing more so than anything, is getting more and more people healthy and getting them playing together and finding chemistry," Izzo said. "Chemistry sometimes means people get along. Chemistry sometimes means people have a feeling for one another. In our case, it has to do with people having a feeling for one another."

Izzo said he wanted to be a more offensive-minded team early in the season, but his wish never panned out.

The Spartans went through the year averaging just over 67 points per game. In fact, MSU only topped the 80-point barrier four times - three of those coming before the new year. But as teammates have familiarized themselves with one another, a scoring punch has been added.

Against Colorado, the Spartans put up 79 points despite slowing up the pace considerably in the second half and playing reserves for the last couple of minutes. The same can be said for the 68-point performance against the Gators.

Helping that meshing process has been the sophomore trio of Hill, Anderson and guard Kelvin Torbert. They have played 62 games together and are finally familiarizing themselves with each other's tendencies.

It shows in the statistics.

The trio heads the Spartan offense with 14, 9.8 and 9 points per game on the season. One of the three has led the Spartans in scoring 23 out of 32 games this season. And in MSU's 21 wins, one of the sophomores has been the scoring leader 16 times.

"I think all three of us know we're we going to be on the floor all the time," Torbert said. "That's helping us out a lot and it's helping out the team a lot. Just having that feel for each other and having that chemistry is big."

After surprising many by invading the Sweet 16, Anderson said the Spartans aren't finished just yet. He said with the team chemistry at a season-high, this is the time to keep the potion together.

"It's one-and-done time," Anderson said. "All eyes are on you and everyone is watching, so you've got to play your best."

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