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February 16, 2011

'We ain't dead yet'

Tom Izzo said words to that effect twice after Tuesday's 71-61 loss at Ohio State, and even though his team is 14-11 with five games left in the regular season, there's reason to believe he has a point.

    There's also reason for concern. One reason has emerged above all others -- Durrell Summers, who went scoreless, taking one shot and showing no aggression in any facet of the game after he picked up two fouls in the first 63 seconds.

    For all the different ways MSU showed it can get things done against the Buckeyes, I still believe Summers must break out of this funk (four straight games with single-digits scoring, first scoreless game since Jan. 6, 2010 against Wisconsin) if this team is going to emulate the 2002-03 team -- which sat at 14-11 at this point, then ripped off four straight wins to end the regular season.

    Eventually, that team got all the way to the Elite Eight, getting a major postseason production surge from a freshman big man named Erazem Lorbek. Might Adreian Payne serve as a March parallel?

    All I know is, MSU showed that it does have quality in that trio of young bigs, who combined for 23 points and combined to hold Jared Sullinger to 11. Payne, Derrick Nix and Garrick Sherman all had some moments. So did Austin Thornton and Mike Kebler, making this the most complete team effort of the season.

    That is, except for the 19 turnovers, a few of them utterly ridiculous and costly. Kalin Lucas and Draymond Green played well overall but had seven of those turnovers between them.

    MSU shot a season-best 57.4 percent, held OSU to 42.9 percent, won 30-22 on the boards and held a 44-26 edge in points in the paint.

    Turnovers. And free throws. Ohio State had 29, making 23. MSU had six, making five. The Spartans were whistled for 26 fouls. The Buckeyes for 12.

    "It seemed like they just walked to the line every fricking time," said Izzo, who made a few references to the officiating and clearly thought Aaron Craft got away with a lot of physical play against Lucas.

    Izzo also got emotional after the game, when he started to talk about Delvon Roe. A healthy Roe could have made a difference in this game as a defender on David Lighty, but he still fought through pain that Izzo said was a "15" on a scale of 1-10 to contribute eight minutes off the bench.

    “That’s eight more minutes than any guy in this room would have played,” said Izzo to a room full of reporters, a bit choked up while saying it. “That guy’s got more guts… the people of Ohio should be proud of him.”
    Green (who got a late technical for saying a certain four-letter word in frustration and to no one in particular, but within earshot of official Jim Burr) said this of Roe: “If his leg was crooked, Delvon would play. If Delvon had a cracked skull, he’d come out and play with a helmet on. It’s just Delvon.”

    Roe should be in better shape come Saturday, a game against Illinois that is just the latest in a long line of "must wins" for the Spartans. Considering some of the things MSU has figured out in the past two games, I'm seeing more "can wins" in the final five games than I did a week ago. How about you?

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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter
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