Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Men's basketball clobbers Colorado in round 1

March 21, 2003

Tampa, Fla. - It lacked the last-minute stamp of intensity that has been showcased so many times this NCAA Tournament, but they'll take it anyway.

No. 7 seed MSU held off tenth-seeded Colorado 79-64 on Friday, registering the program's first NCAA Tournament win since 2001 and moving the Spartans on to a second-round game on Sunday.

With a victory grin on his face that danced the fringe of confident into smug, head coach Tom Izzo called the win a "step in the right direction" for his young nucleus.

"It's part of a growing process, with the young guys - the freshman and the sophomores," Izzo said of earning the postseason win. "This win is just one step forward."

One step forward for Izzo, one giant leap for sophomore forward/guard Alan Anderson. Anderson, who publicly blamed himself for last season's disappointing 69-58 loss to North Carolina State in the tournament's first round, had a sparkling game on offense and defense.

His 14 points and game-high 7 assists are in stark contrast to last year's five fouls in 13 minutes, but his expectations for the team from a season ago have changed as well.

"We were waiting the whole year to get back in this position," he said. "Now it's time to put (MSU) back on the map."

Ever the emerging team-leader, Anderson gave most of his credit for Friday's win to the defensive play of freshman forward Erazem Lorbek and freshman center Paul Davis. Their tough, zone defensive efforts against Colorado 7-footer David Harrison were chiefly responsible for the Buffaloes' 11 first-half turnovers, which gave way to MSU's 44-point first-half.

Lorbek finished with a game-high 17 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals. His flashes of brilliance Friday and in the Big Ten Tournament are slowly turning the Slovenian big man away from his late season slump.

"I was practicing pretty hard for the past two weeks," Lorbek said following the game. "That's how I was able to bounce back."

And if Lorbek is feeling any nerves about playing on college basketball's grandest stage, his sound offensive and defensive play Friday is a funny way of showing it.

"I've never been at such a high-level of basketball," Lorbek said. "I'm trying to play as hard as I can."

Lorbek continued to shoot well when he scores, connecting on 8-for-15 shots from the floor, including a fluky 3-pointer with six seconds remaining to avoid a shot clock violation.

The rims weren't as kind to the Buffaloes, said head coach Ricardo Patton. Colorado shot an icy 41 percent from the free-throw line and 36 percent from beyond the arc.

"We got 7-for-17 (free-throws) and they got 20-for-25," Patton said. When you get to this point, you have to shoot the ball well and especially make free-throws."

Though Colorado leaves Tampa dejected and tournament hopes deflated, Izzo was glad the Big Ten conference continues to roll on against NCAA Tournament foes. The Spartans' win made Big Ten teams a perfect 4-0 in tournament play as of Friday evening. Indiana, a No. 7 seed in the Midwestern region, had not completed their game as of press time.

And whether Izzo was using the Big Ten as a thinly-veiled analogy for his own team, he made certain that he wanted the Big Ten to be respected.

"I'm hoping the other Big Ten teams continue to win," he said, with a smug smirk for the cameras. "I hope we all move on so we can prove all the skeptics wrong."

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