Dec 20, 2011

Michigan State's trouncing of UMKC was an effective pre-Big Ten tune-up

This article was originally published on Yahoo! Sports
By Adam Biggers

Sure, the 19th-ranked Michigan State Spartans have one more non-conference battle before hosting the Indiana Hoosiers on Dec. 28 at the Breslin Center—they host Lehigh on Dec. 22—but Monday night's 89-54 romping of the University of Missouri-Kansas City was a great step toward heading into the Holiday break with a healthy confidence.

The game was over before it started, really. Michigan State had beaten 61 prior un-ranked, non-conference teams at the Breslin Center, stemming back to Dec. 30, 2002, and there was little doubt that they'd make it 62 with a win over UMKC.

Michigan State (10-2) jumped out to a 16-2 lead over the 'Roos (7-6, 1-1) by way of Derrick Nix's lefty-hook and never looked back. It was clear that the Spartans would roll onto a sizable victory after that play, although, there were plenty more on the way.

Freshman Branden Dawson scored a career-high 16 points, shooting 8-for-12 from the field and throwing down a couple raucous dunks in the process. Spartans coach Tom Izzo recently said that it would only be a matter of time before Dawson became a star at Michigan State.

While Dawson's ravaging of a Summit League opponent doesn't qualify him for stardom just yet, he's had showings against better foes that have suggested he'll be there soon.

Dawson continues to look more and more like the five-star phenom Spartans followers couldn't wait to see play. With a little brushing up on his perimeter defense—he was burned twice, by my count, Monday—he'll be the real deal.

Seniors Draymond Green and Brandon Wood also turned in spirited performances, with Green tallying 10 points and 11 rebounds and Wood finishing with 16 points (3-for-3 from 3-point range).

Green… well, what more could be said about Green? Even against what fans—not the Spartans—would call a "cupcake" team, he battled in the paint, crashed the boards and hit the deck for loose balls. The Spartans are his to command, and he showed why he's well-respected—he never lets up.

Nix, a junior, looked good in the paint, however, he appeared to roll his left foot when going up for a rebound in the second half. He returned to the bench under his own power, and by the looks of things, he'll live. Along with Nix, Adreian Payne helped limit the 'Roos to nearly zero production in the paint.

In fact, the 'Roos, who came in as one of the nation's top 3-point shooting teams (42 percent), looked hesitant to come inside the perimeter. That hesitation was warranted, as the Spartans blocked six shots in the first 20 minutes, forcing the 'Roos to stick to what they knew, and that was shooting the long ball.

But, that didn't work out too well for UMKC, which shot 22 percent from beyond the arc in the first half and a sub-par 31 percent from the floor. The poor shooting performances, along with a stingy and powerful Spartans defense, led UMKC to a 40-20 deficit at the break.

A few good looks…

There were plenty of unselfish plays to go around Monday night. The Spartans had 14 assists at the half, and Izzo praised the Spartans' willingness to spread the ball around during his post-game interview with the Big Ten Network's Greg Kelser (Special K).

Nix's hustle in the first half was something to take note of. He's been giving more effort, it seems, each and every game. After sinking his lefty-hook in the first half, he ran down the floor, blocking Fred Chatmon's shot at an open lay-up.

Dawson's dunks were the icing on the cake. His best came in the first half. He took advantage of the mismatch, leaped from right edge of the charge circle and threw down a nice one-handed flush. It was a highlight dunk you'll see on all the recap shows, trust me.

The play gave Michigan State a 23-11 edge and let the flood gates open. Well, there were a couple plays that could be given credit for that, but that's one I chose to cite. Dawson's one-handed, breakaway dunk in the second half gave the Spartans a 51-23 cushion. That was a morale-crushing play, too.

Wood helped ensure the Spartans would post a beyond-lopsided victory with a dagger 3-pointer with about six minutes to play, giving Michigan State a 76-46 lead.

Walk it out, walk-ons…

Keenan Wetzel, seemingly eighth-year senior Anthony Ianni and even Dan Chapman got a little action. It was nice to see Ianni sink a free-throw, as he's been a guy who I've really admired for giving a lot with little in return—kind of like a bigger, meatier Tom Herzog. Those guys make the program go 'round, believe it or not.

Adam Biggers has followed NCAA basketball for over 20 years, specifically the Michigan State Spartans. He can be reached by e-mail at Adam.Biggers, or, by Twitter @AdamBiggers81.

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