Michigan State entered the Big Ten tournament with its season hanging by a thread. Their bubble was floating in air, delicately trying to avoid what seemed to be an inevitable pop.
But, as they have done throughout the Tom Izzo era, the Spartans switched courses and came up with a big win in March and now appear poised to dance in the NCAA tournament, yet again.
“When March comes, when you lose, you’re done and we want to keep winning, we don’t want to go home,” said guard Kalin Lucas. “I think when March come’s that’s when we turn it up even to another notch.”
Michigan State upset ninth-ranked Purdue 74-56 at Conseco Fieldhouse to advance to the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament. Lucas carried his team from the start. The second-team All-Big Ten guard contributed on 26 of the Spartans first 32 points with 18 of his own and three assists that led to eight points.
“We wanted to play hard. My teammates found me early and we definitely didn’t want to lose to [Purdue] either because they beat us twice already,” said Lucas. “It definitely feels good to get this win.”
Lucas finished with a game-high 30 points. He became the first Spartan to score 30 in a Big Ten tournament game.
It’s also just two-points less, 32, than he had total in his first two meetings against Purdue this season, including a nine point outing in their game in West Lafayette.
“He’s a great player. You can’t take anything away [from him]. He’s got his head up,” said Purdue guard Lewis Jackson. “We just let him get comfortable early and he took advantage of it.”
Michigan State shot an unconscious 7-13 from beyond the arc, while holding Purdue to just 3-16 from deep. The Spartans, who have been plagued by turnovers throughout the season, were efficient sharing the basketball, as well. They turned it over just twice in the opening frame, and eight times for the game, compared to 13 assists.
“We said we had to throw the first punch,” said Draymond Green.
The Spartans threw haymakers. Michigan State never trailed and led by as many as 20 in the second half. Purdue shot 37-percent from the field and only 60-percent from the free throw line.
“We got off to a good start defensively,” said Green “When you get off to a good start defensively, it turns things up a notch.”
Big Ten Player-of-the-Year JaJuan Johnson tried to keep his team close with 21-points and nine rebounds and E’Twaun Moore netted 17, but the Spartans put the game out of reach by finishing on a 14-5 run.
“Any time you put yourself in a hole, it’s hard to get back, especially with a team like Michigan State” said Johnson. “In the second half we did play harder, but it just wasn’t enough.”
Although it might not show in the box score, Michigan State’s X-factor was junior forward Delvon Roe. Roe battled with Johnson for most of the night. He was a physical presence in the paint finishing with eight-points, seven-rebounds, and four blocks.
“I think I did a good job of doing what I have to do to help this team win. Rebounding, help defense, and making things happen that don’t always show up in the stat sheet,” Roe said.
No shot was more important for the Spartans than Roe’s put-back tip-in to end a Boilermakers 8-0 run midway through the second half.
Purdue had cut MSU’s lead to single digits and Conseco Fieldhouse, which is less than an hour from the West Lafayette campus, came to life in support of the Black and Gold. Roe’s bucket silenced the crowd and helped Michigan State regain momentum.
“It was a big shot. I don’t know how I got it,” said Roe. “I was up there like ‘c’mon ball, come down, come down, come down and it finally came down.”
The Spartans will try to continue their run through the conference tournament Saturday against the winner of Penn State and Wisconsin.
While their NCAA tournament hopes seem more realistic after their win over the Boilermakers, the only bracket they are concern with is the one in which they are currently in the semifinals.
“We haven’t had the greatest season, but we said weeks ago, we weren’t throwing in the towel or anything, we are just going to keep on fighting,” said Green. “We’re still taking it one game at a time.”
Purdue now must wait. The ninth-ranked Boilermakers will limp into the NCAA tournament losers of two in a row. They were upset by Iowa last weekend.
Despite the setbacks, the Boilers continue to believe they still have a lot of basketball left to play.
“The tournament starts over. We got bounced out of this one, but the NCAA tournament is six games and anyone can win,” said Jackson. “We just have to go in positive.”