Coming in, we all generally agreed that Michigan State was the better team. More experienced, more talented, deeper, bigger, maybe even faster. Were we to play this game 10 times in East Lansing, they would likely win eight or nine of them. Still, we all held out hope that we could play well, or they could play really poorly, and it would all come together and we could pick up a monumental win.
It started out fine, with us quickly jumping ahead 7-1. From there, it wasn't nearly as enjoyable. A couple of buckets for both sides left the score at 11-6; from there, though, it wasn't quite as fun. A 19-1 run by the Spartans immediatley followed, and they never really looked back. The first half, especially the last 15 minutes of it, was absolutely dreadful. Turnovers, missed shots, and plenty of God-awful defense. The worst half of basketball we've played all year, narrowly coming in ahead of the second half against Arizona. Despite our early hot start, we were dominated in every single way imaginable that first 20 minutes. No one stood up. In the first half, it was just a collage of miscues and mistakes and screw-ups.
Uh, yeah, that's pretty much what the first half was like...(Nick Krug -- KU Sports)
It wasn't all negative, though. We came out in the second half and, after Michigan State knocked down an early two, we went on a 9-0 run to start out the second half. And once that happened, we settled down. Sherron began to take the team on his back, but didn't go all me-against-the-world. He merely tried extra hard, driving the extra mile, but still not hesitating to kick the ball out to the open perimeter players. With Sherron's leadership, our entire team slowly moved beyond the rough-and-tough defense the Spartans were playing and the incredibly touchy-feely refereeing and the not-that-loud crowd to battle the Spartans back-and-forth. Even after the 9-0 run, Michigan State outscored our Baby Hawks by all of one point, and even that is inflated because of our late fouling.
As bad as we played the first half, we still had a chance to win the game late. Late in the game, with us only down 9, we had the ball. Sherron brought the ball down and, in leadership fashion, fired up a three. In rhythm, with his feet under him, with rebounders under the basket. All good. And, from the release, it looked good. Oh, it looked good. Were it to go in, oh boy. It would have made it a six-point contest, with about three minutes left, and we would have had all of the momentum. The Breslin Center would have been awfully quiet, and it would have been exciting. Alas, it wasn't to be, and the ball ended up about six inches short. Michigan State scooped up the board, drove it down the floor, and sunk a three.
Still, the mere fact that we had a chance, however slim, to come back and win the game says a lot. We continued to fight, continued to battle, continued to try our best. Sure, we didn't play our best basketball, even in the second half. But we clearly wanted it more than the Spartans did the second half, and played much better. And that, while not as fun or good or enjoyable as a victory, is almost as important. It proved that we can battle back-and-forth with the country's elite. We out played them in the second half, and this is a legitimate Final Four team. That's no small stuff.
We were able to come back in the game thanks to, surprise surprise, our two leaders. More on those leaders, and every other player in the player-by-player reviews after the break...
Sherron took the team on his back in the second half, after getting punched in the mouth in the first, and just about lead us back all the way. Still, despite falling short in leading us back, and despite him turning the ball over 8 times, and despite only shooting 25% from the three-point line, dude balled. Big time. 25 points, nearly all of them in the second session, and 8 assists to go along with them; just about all of them, again in the second half, off of drives where he single-handedly drew in three-or-four defenders, only to find Tyrel Reed wide open in the corner.
- Speaking of Tyrel Reed, it was nice for him to actually show up. In a game where not too many people showed up and played all that well, Tyrel Reed put together quite an impressive second half. 10 points, and that includes two missed free throws, which are usually automatic for him. Still, he played pretty good defense, and was the one guy all day who would actually get open on the wing for Sherron to dish off. Brady disappointed, but Tyrel showed up in a big way.
- Lastly in the good column we have Cole Aldrich. Not a fantastic game, and he missed way too many layups (seriously, for a dude who has such an awesome seventeen-footer, you would think he can make a layup), but he was a huge presence on the boards (really, our only presence), especially in the second half. And he knocked down his freebies, for the most part, along with a couple of mid-range jumpers. Not a tremendous game, again, but a nice, solid, good-enough-to-win game. It's just that not too many others played up to their own level.
- Mainly, the Morris twins and Brady. Markieff played pretty well when he was in there, but picking up 5 fouls in 14 minutes is terrible. No matter how ridiculous the refs are calling the game, that is simply inexcusable. Marcus just didn't play well, period. Only played 8 minutes despite picking up 2 fouls, so that tells you everything you need to know. And, lastly, we have Brady. Brady had to match up with Raymar for much of the game, which is a tough-ass assignment, and he did pretty well, all things considered. But his offensive game was non-existent, except for that one three he hit (well, that and that one two he hit with like 3 seconds left). Not a terrible outing by Brady, but he clearly was overmatched physically and athletically. Still played decent enough, but wasn't the same surprise that is oh-so-fun to root for. He almost looked panicked, at times.
- The worst player, besides Marcus Morris at least, would have to be TyTay. I love the kid, a whole helluva lot, but he just looks lost out there right now. Nothing technical or anything, just someone who looks like he is having to think through every step, as opposed to merely going out there and playing. He is going to have to start playing better, because Bill Self sent a clear message the second half; Travis Releford played like double the minutes of TyTay in the second half, and we did way better. Not saying it was the switch of Taylor and Releford, just saying.
- Speaking of coaching, I don't know if I've ever seen Bill Self get quite so pissed as he did in the first half. I mean, he even acted all pissy when they told him that referee Steve Welmer was leaving because of medical reasons. Something about seating his ass in a chair, or something. And, for some reason, I doubt there was too much humor entailed in that. But, back to the actual players. The easiest way, besides hearing him getting pissed off at injured officials, to tell that Self is pissed is how liberally he uses his bench. I realize that plenty of coaches do this, but he does it more than most. I mean, he brought in everybody. Everybody. Kleinmann, Appleton, Quintrell, Mario Little. Even Connor Teahan got his name in the boxscore, albeit at the end of the game. Maybe I'm remembering this wrong, but didn't Kleinmann come in before Quintrell? If so, that is quite the indictment of Quintrell. In any case, I don't think he was trying to do anything other than simply sending a message about how angry he was with our collective play as a unit. He was even royally ticked off with Sherron, having Appleton run the point a little in the first half.
- I'm not going to address the Mario LIttle situation, as I want to have a situation-specific post up sometime Sunday. So watch out for that.
- And, finally, one last note. I thought Travis Releford, while not standing out, did quite well for himself. He boxed-out, for the most part, played pretty good defense, and by-and-large looked like he knew what he was doing. He outplayed TyTay, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him get a start on Tuesday. If for nothing else, just to let everyone know that the best players will play. Hopefully he can keep it up, because if Mario Little doesn't pick up his game fast, or is redshirted, we really need another perimeter/big slash to step up. A good Releford gives us the option to go small, with Releford effectively serving as the 4. He plays big enough and boxes out well enough that it is a possibility, and we did it for substantial stretches today. A not-so-good, beginning-of-the-year Releford either forces Little to fill the role or simply forfeit the option of playing small, unless you want Tyrel guarding the other team's 4.
I still plan on giving some Insight Bowl-related thoughts, although those will almost certainly be included in my Position Reviews for the year. Hopefully, those can start sometime next week, although it will be after Tuesday night's matchup with Kansas State at the earliest.