East Lansing, MI
I am sure the words â€œWright Stateâ€ went through the heads of many Spartan fans as they watched the Michigan State Spartans and Columbia Lions in regional round play in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.Â Wright State shocked the Spartans in 1999 and the Columbia Lions almost pulled off what would have been an even bigger upset at the Breslin Center tonight.Â Unfortunately for Columbia the Spartans realized that they could go inside to Adreian Payne for points every trip down the floor before the Lions could complete the upset.Â Riding the shoulders of Payne the Spartans were able to escape with a 62-53 win. With the win, the Spartans are in position to take over the number 1 spot in the country when the new polls are released. If the Spartans do take over the top spot it will be the fifth time in the program history that the Spartans will be ranked number 1 and the first since January 2nd, 2001.
When asked about the Spartans Columbia head coach Kyle Smith said his teamâ€™s main goal before the game was to â€œsurvive.â€ They did more than survive, for the majority of the game the Lions looked like they would be able to pull of the major upset but both the Spartans and the IzzoneÂ hit the kill switch as crunch time arose. Towards the end of the game Columbia was called for two straight foul shot violations which helped the Spartans escape with the victory. Afterwards Coach Smith credited both of those turnovers to the Izzone â€œThey are the best coached fans Iâ€™ve ever seen. They duped us. They duped us with the backwards count.â€
Â The Spartans struggled for the whole game but especially in the first half where they shot 35 %, had eight turnovers and were outrebounded 17-13. It was not hard to see the Spartans were trying to go inside on every trip down the floor but other than Payne no other Spartan post player could establish any type of success. The second half started just as bad for the Spartans but eventually they switched to a smaller line up and started to hammer away with Payne down low. Payne ended the game with 26 points and 11 rebounds and was the difference between a win and a loss.
As expected Coach Tom Izzo was not happy after his teamâ€™s performance â€œ There were a lot of effort-related things, loose balls we didnâ€™t come up with; weâ€™re up three late in the game and a guy goes in and shoots an air ball with thirty seconds left on the shot clock. We seemed a little selfish and this is not a selfish team but that means we didnâ€™t respect our opponents, we didnâ€™t respect the game, and we really deserved to get beat.â€
Â To start the night the hot topic of conversation in the Breslin was the possibility of the Spartans soon becoming the number 1 ranked team in the country. Head Coach Tom Izzo said this about the number one ranking â€œteam thatâ€™s got to hope now that Kansas blows somebody out so they move ahead of us because we proved tonight that weâ€™re not ready to handle any kind of success and that disappoints me.â€
The players downplayed the probability of taking over the number 1 spot in the polls, instead the main topic of conversation in the locker room after the game was the teams underwhelming performance. When asked about the game Gary Harris responded â€œWe didnâ€™t come with the energy we needed to win, we won but it was too close for comfort.â€ Speaking upon the same topic Payne added â€œas a team we didnâ€™t come out ready to play. We can â€˜t be satisfied with what we just done and we didnâ€™t get it done today like we should have.â€
After scrapping by for the victory tonight the Spartans will most likely play their first game as the number 1 team in the nation on Monday against the University of Portland in the second game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.Â The Spartans will then travel to Brooklyn to conclude the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic with a game against Virginia Tech and then either Oklahoma or Seton Hall. Till then, Spartan Nation will turn their focus to the huge football match up with Nebraska on Saturday.Â With the most likely soon to be number 1 ranked team in basketball and a football team with an opportunity to play in the Big Ten Championship game, it is most certainly a great time to be a fan of Michigan State athletics.