By Adam Biggers
The Michigan State Spartans' senior leader scored a career-high 34 points in his team's 74-67 win over the 22nd-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs (5-3), further proving that he is the sole proprietor—at least on the court—of the Spartans.
It was a game in which the Spartans were tested, and they needed to be. And because the Spartans passed that test, they'll likely appear in the top-25 rankings.
Without a true challenge away from the Breslin Center this year, a battle with another perennial NCAA tournament team served as an accurate barometer of the Spartans' (8-2) progress after they opened their season with losses to then sixth-ranked Duke and top-ranked North Carolina.
The Spartans—despite late fouls, mental mistakes and missed opportunities—looked sharp, for the most part. Freshman Travis Trice had trouble handling the ball, committing four turnovers, but he did have three key assists—and one in particular helped push the Spartans to victory: a beautiful pass to Green in the paint which gave the Spartans a 62-52 lead with just over nine minutes to play.
At one point in the second half, Green had made 10 straight, finishing 11-of-13 from the field, 4-for-5 from 3-point range and 8-for-9 from the free-throw line. He absolutely dominated the Bulldogs, inside and out, en route to posting one of the most well-rounded showings of any Spartan in recent memory.
He just couldn't miss. Green's sharpshooting gave the Spartans 9- and 10-point cushions in the second half (51-41, 65-56), which were handy in fending off a late, but spirited, 11-3 Bulldogs run.
Sure, another player could have stepped up and vaulted the Spartans past the Bulldogs in arguably one of their toughest road games of the season. It's hard to win on the road in the Big Ten, and Gonzaga does pretty well at The Kennel.
It was fitting that Green was the man of the hour. After the Spartans' 89-69 home win over Central Connecticut State, coach Tom Izzo, and Green, expressed their displeasure in the team's sloppy play. Green held a gathering, not a "meeting," as he insisted, and laid it all on the line. He told Trice, a freshman, that this year's team reminded him of past Final Four teams at Michigan State, two of which Green was on.
And then he burst for a career-night Saturday against Gonzaga.
It would have been easy for the senior to direct guys, telling them what he expected. But it's quite another for him to set the tone. That's just what leaders do.
That's just what Day-Day has done his whole career in East Lansing.
Adam Biggers can be reached by e-mail at Adam.Biggers@Yahoo.com, or, by Twitter @AdamBiggers81