Tom Izzo walked off the floor after beating AP-ranked No. 5 Illinois at home with his young center ejected, his junior combo guard-forward turned make-shift power forward scoring 20 points, and a win.
Michigan State made every single minute of Tuesday's game ugly and revived what seemed lost as MSU seems to have done the horror-movie equivalent of the zombie digging itself out of a grave with another resounding win over No. 4 Ohio State on Thursday.
But Izzo isn't satisfied, that much is obvious. He's been in this position too many times not to know that there is still a job to be done — only this time, he's got his players believing that too.
"I'm trying to win," Henry said, almost simply. "Guys fought tonight ... guys really came in and played their hearts out."
He was right, and I saw the same thing against Illinois.
A staredown by Sissoko after swinging down an arm on Kofi Cockburn, Joshua Langford holding a freshman and A.J. Hoggard back from getting in the face of Illinois's players after a scrum.
There's an attitude, a put-on-your-hard-hat and go to work attitude.
It's an attitude that guys and a coach who knows a job is not quite done yet carry and while the defense and the quotes are nice, MSU is playing together just like the two teams they've beaten this past week.
"That's something that Ohio State really is," Henry said. "They play connected. They play together. They know where everybody likes the ball. ... They play connected, and we try to do that with us."
That was something I saw when watching MSU lose 79-62 in Columbus earlier this season with a dejected-looking roster struggling with COVID-19 issues and emotion.
Boy, did MSU flip the script on Thursday night.
In both games, they played like a team that had everything on the line for 40 minutes. When teams get into these positions — must win, season-defining ones — it really proves who's got what it takes to win in any level of sports. MSU proved they can play with anyone in the country and made two pretty teams play ugly to suddenly rise from the boneyard into the backyard of the NCAA Tournament bubble.
"I did not think we played great," Izzo said after the win over OSU. "And yet, we found a way to win. It was an absolute war in there."
It was exactly that. A war, chess match and basketball game all rolled into one. Two coaches in Chris Holtmann and Izzo that are brilliant in their game plans and schemes when preparing for opponents. Yeah, Kyle Young was out for Ohio State, which was much more important than some might realize for a Buckeye team that was without a true center in the frontcourt, but it was still a game that was fought on every single possession.
This run is maybe sparked by Henry's all-time quote: "We just had to strap our nuts on and play," after MSU's win over Indiana. It seemed that he was asserting he was finally done with the doubts, the lack of leadership and the losing.
"These juniors and seniors are playing for a lot," Izzo said.
"I'm not sure we've had many weeks where we've beaten a top four or five team in the country, so I'm just going to enjoy it for 20 more minutes," he said, checking his watch knowing that he and his team would be punching their time cards once again the next morning.
At 13-9 MSU is now listed at No. 68 in the NET Rankings, the most important ranking system for the NCAA Tournament selection committee. There are 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament.
With Indiana, Maryland and Michigan (twice) left on the schedule, things just got more interesting for the Spartans.
It won't be easy, not in this Big Ten Conference in this season. I think they can pull it off by splitting those four games, with one of the wins coming against Michigan.
This Spartan team just isn't done yet.
They know it; Maryland, who MSU faces Sunday afternoon, knows it.
And now, so does the rest of the Big Ten.
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