Spartans lose here in Columbus, but find their identity!

Hondo S. Carpenter

January 27, 2007

Columbus, Ohio

Value City Arena

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The excitement of a Big Ten basketball game can be judged in a lot of ways. Not the least of which was the presence of ESPN’s College Gameday. As I talked with Dick Vitale before the game (an interview you can see on Monday’s Hondo’s House) he to only heightened the level of excitement to the proverbial next level.

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MSU came in to this game riding a 17-4 record. Something had you told Izzo at the beginning of the season he would have gladly accepted, but still with some frustration that they had more in the tank. Ohio State came in with a 17-3 record and a national ranking of #5. With all the hype surrounding Buckeye diaper dandy (a Dick Vitale word for a freshman) Greg Oden. Oden is a seven footer with all the tools and publicity. I said earlier in the year at the Big Ten media day: “I think that Ohio State is very good, but they are over hyped.” I leave here tonight still feeling that way. Watching OSU made me think they were ripe for a surprise and MSU plays the kind of defense that could have delivered it.

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MSU comes in with four potential big (Naymick, Suton, Ibok and Gray) men that they believed could rattle Oden. With MSU taking a “back to Izzo basketball” approach, I thought they had the potential to make a run and get the upset. MSU I thought would push the Buckeyes. They did not. Izzo did say about his bigs after the game “I thought our bigs played phenomenal. He (Oden) is the best center in the country and we did a heck of a job on him.”

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With a halftime deficit of 20, the Spartans struggled to get on track. They played Oden well and marginalized him, but with the Buckeyes you pick your poison and with all the emphasis down low (where it should have been) OSU got hot outside and plummeted the Spartans in the first half.

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It was a good game plan, and almost any other night of the season would have beaten the Buckeyes but they were on the money from way down deep and were relentless. They shot a blazing 62.5% from the field in the first half while MSU was a frozen 30%. That wasn’t even the story.  MSU had a 17-13 rebounding edge but only because the Buckeyes weren’t missing any shots. MSU had 7 turnovers, which although not as low as you would like still was livable if only the shooting hadn’t been so horrific.

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With Raymar Morgan struggling at the break (2-7) he was the leading scorer while OSU had two players with 11. As dismal as things looked at the half, the second half was a show.

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The Spartans put on a performance that was legendary in the second half. They shot 62.5% from the field and held the Buckeyes to 23.8%. That was not the story. Drew Neitzel elevated his game to huge proportions scoring 24 and the Spartans roared back to within two. On the last play of the game, MOJO missed a game winning three-point play and the Spartans valiant effort fell short.

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Tom Izzo had said earlier in the week “I don’t really know about this team right now, I guess I will learn something on Saturday.” Well he did. I asked him after the game what he learned and holding back tears and he said, “I learned they have bigger hearts then I thought. I am awfully proud of my team. Former players like Eric Snow, Magic Johnson and Mateen Cleaves all called and told the team to leave it on the floor.” They did Tom.

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Shannon Brown the former Spartan star and current Cleveland Cavalier continued a proud tradition of stars coming back. He was in the stands for the game (you can see my interview with him on Hondo’s House Monday) and told me afterward “I am so proud of these guys.�� They played MSU basketball. They played what this program is all about. Play tough, play hard and play like a Spartan.”

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After the game and exhausted Thad Matta the OSU head coach commented on the great play of Neitzel saying, “I have not seen a player catch fire like he did tonight.”

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MSU leaves with a loss and I am not a fan or proponent of emotional victories, they had one here tonight. They taught themselves a lot and I leave here with a lot better feeling about this team. Izzo ball is back boys and girls, and the Big Ten and the country saw that. They may not have the talent of last year’s team, but they have what it was missing: heart and toughness. This was an L in the column but a W for confidence.

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Wow! What pride to be a part of the Spartan Nation!

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