Thursday, May 23, 2024

Walton, Suton switch roles to help beat USC

Cash Kruth

Minneapolis — For once, Travis Walton was the offensive star on the MSU men’s basketball team.

That meant it was someone else’s turn to be the unheralded defensive star.

That title went to senior center Goran Suton, who limited Southern Cal’s Taj Gibson to three points — all from the free-throw line — and zero rebounds in MSU’s 74-69 win over the Trojans in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday at the Metrodome.

The Spartans now advance to the Sweet 16 to play Kansas on Friday night.

“I was amazed by how physical they were,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo said of USC after the game. “I think the job on Gibson — and you have to give (Suton) a lot of credit — was a big, big factor in the game.”

It was an interesting switcheroo between Walton and Suton.

Throughout the season, Izzo has been in the ear of Suton almost as much as he has with senior forward Marquise Gray, who leads everyone on the career tally board of drawing Izzo’s wrath.

Yet this season, perhaps more than any other, Izzo has been on Suton just as much. He has said repeatedly that the 6-foot-10 senior has the skills to dominate but has questioned his desire — especially on defense.

So when Suton, a strong, yet awkward big man, drew the defensive assignment of the lanky, athletic Gibson, it looked like a surefire mismatch, which even Suton admitted.

“I knew he had an advantage over me with quickness and speed, so I tried to beat him to every spot, tried to be physical inside and making sure he got nothing easy and just front him,” Suton said. “I just tried to front him and use my hips and be physical with him.”

From my seat, the wide hips, strength and basketball IQ won out.

By the time Gibson fouled out with 5:38 remaining in the second half it was really no big deal, even if the MSU fans who made the trip rose to their feet. The 6-foot-9 forward had put up just two shots and committed zero turnovers.

USC freshman forward DeMar DeRozan said the Trojans lost a “playmaker” when Gibson fouled out, but the truth was Gibson hardly made any plays Sunday night, except for five blocks.

That was mainly because of Suton, as well as the rest of the MSU defense, which also impressed Izzo.

“The job he did on Gibson was unbelievable, but it wasn’t done by itself,” Izzo said of Suton. “I thought we sagged pretty well … but it was because we put a man and a half on him.”

It’s important to remember to give the rest of the guys credit, such as freshman forwards Draymond Green and Delvon Roe, who also stepped up big on defense. The sophomore guard trio of Chris Allen, Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers also deserve some praise, as well.

But the unsung hero of the night is Suton, even if he doesn’t get all the credit.

Cash Kruth is a State News men’s basketball reporter. He can be reached at kruthcas@msu.edu.

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