Thursday, May 23, 2024

MSU’s ascent unexpected, meaningful

Alex Altman

Detroit — After watching North Carolina embarrass MSU during the ACC-Big Ten Challenge in December, I left Ford Field absolutely convinced of two things.

1) The Tar Heels would be back here for the national championship game.

2) They wouldn’t be playing MSU.

Hey, one-for-two ain’t too shabby.

North Carolina’s 98-63 victory over MSU was more than just a beatdown — it was a malicious, 40-minute assault that left the Spartans battered and bruised. The Spartans shot 34.8 percent from the field, committed 22 turnovers and were outrebounded 46-40.

Only two players — junior forward Raymar Morgan (21 points) and sophomore guard Chris Allen (16 points) — finished in double figures. Sophomore guard Kalin Lucas mustered just six points on 2-of-10 shooting.

“You didn’t see our real team tonight, but our real team might have lost by 20,” Izzo said after the game. “They’re definitely one of the best teams I’ve seen in my 25 years at Michigan State.”

When the game ended, I was convinced North Carolina would run the table en route to the national championship. Four months later, I’m not so sure the 33-4 Tar Heels will pull it off.

Make no mistake about it: North Carolina will be the more talented team on the court Monday. Heck, with four players projected as first-round selections in the 2009 NBA Draft, even Izzo isn’t afraid to admit that.

“They are the best team in the country, and have been that, have earned that rank probably over a year and a half,” Izzo said. “We’ve just got to play good and have them play a little less than good.”

In what appears to be the final collegiate games Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green will ever play, it’s highly unlikely that the Tar Heels will fall on their faces.

But even if North Carolina does play its best game of the season — even if it plays better than it did on that cold December evening — the Spartans have something going for them that North Carolina simply can’t match: a greater sense of purpose.

Although the romanticizing of the topic has become a bit excruciating, the fact that MSU will be playing for the city of Detroit can’t be undervalued.

The idea of Spartans cutting down the nets in Detroit has been a dream for everybody, even to those who aren’t from the state.

“There’s a lot of cities right now that have problems, but this is ours,” Izzo said. “This is our big city in the state. So that’s why I think it’s a little more meaningful for those of us that are from around here.

“Even (Raymar Morgan) and Travis (Walton), who have not resided here for three and four years, they’re not that far away either and they have a great appreciation.”

Throughout the postseason, the Spartans have spoken eloquently about the possibility of being sunlight in a city that’s seen nothing but dark clouds the past few years.

Even if the Spartans fail, the accomplishments of these players shouldn’t be disparaged.

“We’re playing for us, we’re playing for our university, we’re playing for our city and state,” Izzo said.

“But these players deserve to have the focus on them, too. They’ve earned it. I mean, they have not shied away from anything.”

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