Three Key Takeaways
- Michigan State’s defense can win games. After scoring 41 points in the opening 20 minutes, Michigan State’s offense struggled mightily in the second half, mustering just 23 total points and failing to rediscover its high-efficiency transition game. And yet, thanks to one of the best defensive halves of basketball they have played all season, the Spartans managed to survive. Tom Izzo’s group held Maryland to just one made field goal in the final 10:27 of play, a stretch of grind-it-out, physical basketball that culminated in two huge defensive stops to seal the win. Senior forward Matt Costello, who helped key the effort, cited his team’s defense as “the only reason we won.” For most of the season, Michigan State’s exceptionally efficient offense has carried it to victory. On Saturday afternoon, the Spartans proved that their defense can also bail them out.
- The Spartans’ half-court offense can be worrisome against large opponents. Like Purdue – the last team to knock off Michigan State – Maryland is one of the largest teams in the country, boasting a front line with enough strength and length to frustrate nearly any opponent it faces. In the second half, the Terrapins did just that, limiting the Spartans’ transition game and forcing them to score over its massive bodies in the half-court. Diamond Stone, Robert Carter, Damonte Dodd and company allowed Michigan State very few opportunities in the paint, limiting it to 41.9 percent shooting (13-of-31) from inside the arc and causing visible frustration on the part of Spartans players and coaches. Izzo’s club still won, sure, but perhaps Maryland’s defensive effort gives future Michigan State opponents a possible formula for victory.
- Maryland will be fine. Much was made of the Terrapins’ late-season struggles, a stretch from mid-February through the end of the regular season during which they lost four of six games and failed to come up with solutions on the offensive end. Some pundits even suggested that Mark Turgeon’s club is among the most likely potential NCAA Tournament upset victims. And while that could still be the case – this is March Madness we’re talking about – it won’t be because Maryland has completely lost its mojo. Despite only winning a single game in Indianapolis, the Terrapins looked far more confident in both their 11-point win over Nebraska and their narrow loss against the Spartans. After scorching the nets to the tune of 1.37 points per possession on Friday, Maryland flexed its defensive muscle on Saturday, holding the country’s most efficient offense to just 23 second half points. Turgeon seemed genuinely relieved in the postgame press conference, as if his team had turned a corner in spite of the outcome: “Everybody in Maryland basketball feels good – feels better than we did coming into this week.” If those good feelings continue into the NCAA Tournament, the Terrapins may have a very nice March ahead of them.