Another Road Win for State.

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By Paul M. Banks

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MSU Leaves Champaign with a win for the first time since ’02.

The 2nd of the two “Banks Invitational” games went exactly as I expected. Which is fitting because it’s a match up of my undergrad and graduate schools, the two teams I follow the most. I predicted that MSU would narrowly win a low scoring slog fest, and they delivered by winning 59-51 in Champaign. Senior Illinois forward Brian Randle was thought to be done for the year. However, the Gregory Hines look alike checked into the game in the 2nd half and gave his team a bit of a “spark,” if you can call his 7 points a “spark.” Then again, his entire team scored just 20 in the 2nd half.  Shaun Pruitt has really degenerated into a useless hulk of junk this season after actually declaring early for the NBA Draft last year. The way his senior year has gone, he won’t even hear his name called in the Turkish or Spanish league drafts. His performance at the free throw line (3 of 9) was typical; watching him shoot free throws is exactly like watching Chicago Bulls guard Chris Duhon take jump shots. Remember Duhon’s dubious 0 for 20 something field goal drought this season? In typical Pruitt fashion, he had a big first half, (5-5 from the floor), then disappeared in the 2nd, missing his lone field goal attempt. When Illinois jumped out to an early double digit lead on Sparty, Coach Tom Izzo remained composed. And for good reason, because Illinois always blows their second half leads. (This time it was tied 31-31 at halftime.) He watched the game films and probably realized that Illinois lacked the firepower to beat them tonight. Drew Naymick and company did a good job containing Pruitt, and there was absolutely no one on the perimeter for Illinois to make them come out and defend. The Illini shot just 2-14 from behind the arc. The second part of Izzo’s brilliant game plan worked ingeniously as well. Get them to the foul line and they will choke. Illinois complied, shooting just 9-19 from the charity stripe. With Illinois a free throw isn’t free, there’s quite a hefty fee. And they showed again why they are among the worst in the entire nation.

The Spartans perimeter defense did a great job locking up the two Illini guards with the potential to hurt them. Remember Demetri McCamey…the guy with the fourth highest scoring game in the Big Ten? (31 against Indiana) He followed up his 2-11 shooting at Iowa with a little 1-7 for good measure against State. Trent Meacham missed all of his three point attempts and gave a very meager offensive contribution.

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The Spartans were led by Goran Suton’s double-double (he’s starting to really get it together) and Drew Neitzel’s 17 points, which came on the strength of three “triples.” He learned from his shot selection mistakes at Wisconsin last week. Neitzel was scoreless for the first 7 minutes last night, but he made sure to keep his trigger free from shyness. And it paid off. Senior center Drew Naymick knows that he’s primarily a defense guy, but he also passed up a couple decent looks at Wisconsin, and we saw those possessions end in turnover. At Assembly Hall, we saw him take and make those crucial jump shots. Naymick, incorrectly and humorously described by obnoxious Indiana fans as a “Ginger Oaf,” had 12 points on 5 of 6 shooting. The best thing about this road victory over Illinois was the fact that the Green and White seemed to learn a lot from their previous mistakes. Izzo’s teams tend to do that as the season progresses. They seem to get better as the year goes on and often play their best ball in March.

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Lucas with the Lid Off

Freshman point guard Kalin Lucas is the new Dee Brown or T.J. Ford; a player possessing speed way above and beyond your average college b-ball player. ESPN’s Steve Lavin calls him a “beep-beeper,” in reference to the roadrunner from those old Bugs Bunny cartoons. That would be my 6th Steve Lavin reference on this site: which wouldn’t seem like a whole lot to people who know me. Of course, Lavin would obviously know a lot about the beep-beepers, having coached the original beep-beeper, Tyus Edney at UCLA. I would say that Lucas’ speed reminds me of controlling Barry Sanders or Randall Cunningham in “John Madden ’93” for Sega Genesis: you see one figure streaking back and forth with triple the velocity of every other player on the screen. Lucas showed his strong swiftness on a beautiful take to the whole in the first half. He displayed his speed burst a few more times in the Indiana game, but the most breathtaking of all his drives was the one where he gave a fake-pass maneuver before taking it to the rack. That drive would probably be the “did you freakin’ see that?” play of the year for Michigan State. Of course, Lucas needs to learn some self-control on his drives too. He committed a horrible turnover down the stretch at Illinois when he would have been better off trying to pull up. Once he develops the finishing part of his game, he’ll make better decisions next year and be instrumental to State’s drive-and-kick game. With Neitzel departing, that element will be essential to their offense. 
1. Steve Lavin also made a quote during this telecast that none of us should EVER reference. The topic of the recently dismissed Chief Illiniwek came up as the camera panned to a kid wearing an old Chief shirt. Lavin remarked, “They should just bring him back and instead call him Chief Peacock. He kind of looks like a peacock. That wouldn’t offend anyone.” Brent Musburgher tried to save him from the joke, but it was too late.


 

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