By Adam Biggers
Sunday was a defensive performance that the Michigan State Spartans may look back on at the end of the season, one that showed the nation that they're not only one of the Big Ten's elite but, perhaps, one of college basketball's top defensive units.
Coach Tom Izzo's eighth-ranked Spartans (22-5, 11-3) held the Purdue Boilermakers (17-10, 7-7) scoreless for nearly five minutes to open the second half in West Lafayette en route to posting an impressive 76-62 victory, which gave them a one-game lead over the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten standings.
The Boilermakers fashioned an 8-0 run midway through the second half—which was powered by freshman Anthony Johnson—but had trouble in the paint and from the perimeter, going on 0-for-9 and 0-for-10 streaks from the field.
As past Izzo teams have, the Spartans have absolutely buckled down defensively over the past weeks, evidenced by consecutive wins over the Buckeyes in Columbus and Wisconsin Badgers in East Lansing. Just three days ago, the Spartans held the Badgers to 34 percent from the field in a 69-55 win. Michigan State held Ohio State to just 26 percent from the field during a 58-48 win Feb. 11.
The Boilermakers shot a combined 34 percent from the field Sunday, but that statistic was heavily influenced by a somewhat decent showing in the first 20 minutes. The second half, however, was a different story for coach Matt Painter's team, which shot roughly seven percent from the field during the final 20 minutes.
Contesting shots, forcing off-balance and ill-advised attempts was the theme for the Spartans, who were led Sunday by senior Draymond Green's 20 points and 10 rebounds. Green, along with freshman Branden Dawson, junior Derrick Nix and sophomore Adreian Payne, were extremely effective protecting the paint Sunday, holding Purdue to 12 points and forcing the Boilers to attack the perimeter—and that move didn't bring the Boilers much luck, resulting in a 6-for-22 performance and 27 percent field goal conversion rate (consistent with what the Spartans have allowed from 3-point distance this season).
Purdue committed just six turnovers Sunday. However, some statistics prove to be a bit misleading, as one could consider many of the Boilermakers' missed opportunities in the second the same as a turnover.
The Spartans made the Boilermakers pay for those misses, evidenced by a Keith Appling steal/assist that resulted in a thunderous dunk by Dawson, one of the Big Ten's elite freshman.
The Spartans' dominance on the boards has been a topic of discussion among college basketball pundits everywhere. Once an Izzo-coached team establishes itself on the glass, championship-caliber seasons surely follow. Michigan State out-rebounded Purdue 38-27 Sunday, keeping in line with its +11 rebound per-game average.
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