Tom Izzo walked up to the podium to conduct his post game interview. He notices that, unlike people do normally, there were no recorders set on the podium to record his interview. “I don’t blame you, I wouldn’t put a recorder up here either,” Izzo admitted.
The Spartans had just come off a huge win against the number one ranked Kentucky Wildcats, and were en route to earning their first number one ranking atop the polls. That is, if they beat Columbia. The “if” was huge though, as MSU struggled for the majority of the game.
The Spartans kicked off the game on a 9-0 run four minutes into the game, but from their, the defense collapsed and the offense stopped working. Eventually, the team found themselves down 21-17 with about four minutes left in the half. “When we had 17 points with three or four minutes left in the half, I knew we had to step it up. Columbia was not going to back down,” Branden Dawson said of the first half woes.
Although the Spartans were still down 26-22 at the half, the four minute mark may have been the turning point in the game, according to Gary Harris, “When Branden brings energy, that’s how we play. We usually go how he goes.”
The slow offensive movement turned into quick, up-tempo offense as soon as the team came out of the gates in the second half. However, they also seemingly forgot how to get back on defense, getting outscored 11-10 in the first five minutes of game time in the second half.
The teams were trading blows in the second half, and it seemed like the Spartans were about to take over once Harris hit two free throws to tie up the game 44-44. On the subsequent defensive possession, while doing the floor slap on defense, Appling was beat driving the lane by Columbia’s Grant Mullins and was forced to foul him, giving Columbia extra time with possession.
Both teams stuck around until about the six-minute mark, when the teams found themselves tied at 51. That was when MSU began to pull away. “When we really needed to get some buckets late, we ran some good stuff,” said Izzo.
The Spartans then began to drive to the bucket, make baskets and draw fouls. Additionally, they began to show some defensive effort. They pulled out the game, eventually, 62-53. That margin of victory also happened to be MSU’s largest lead of the game. “More than anything,” said Izzo after the game, “I didn’t like the heard or energy of our guys. I don’t say that very often.”
Adreian Payne finished the game with 26 points and 11 rebounds on 9-15 shooting (including 8-10 from the stripe). The most intriguing thing, though, is the way he got those points. For the past season, he’s been a player who could score in the post, but also hit jumpers from the perimeter. On Friday night, however, his furthest shot from the field was one jumper from the elbow. All of his other attempts came in the paint. There was also one particular play where Payne faked a perimeter jumper and then did a face-up drive for a one handed slam. It was breathtaking. Adreian Payne, apparently, does not use it on a regular basis. “The face up drive is just something I’ve gotten since I’ve been here,” Payne said, “I used to do face up drives in high school.”
Practice and preparation seemed to be a common theme as to why this game was a big issue. Due to some of the NCAA’s rules, the Spartans couldn’t practice on Wednesday, so they only had one day to prepare for Columbia. During post game interviews, both Adreian Payne and Tom Izzo said that there was another issue– they hadn’t had a good practice since the Sunday before the Kentucky game.
One of the main reasons MSU wasn’t upset was because Columbia’s best player, Grant Mullins, was held to zero points. “I really thought Appling did an incredible job on defense handling Mullins. That kid is a heck of a player, heck of a shooter,” said Izzo.
Everyone surrounding the team realized the magnitude that this game could have possibly had. “If we lose this game, it’s a bigger loss than it’s a bigger win that we had against Kentucky,” Gary Harris said of the game.
The aura of disappointment surrounded the team and its fans all game, and they realized that they cannot overlook the small teams. If Columbia would have won, it would have cost the team its national respect and its number one ranking. According to Tom Izzo, it should cost them the top ranking anyway. “Let’s hope now that Kansas blows somebody out so they move them ahead of us,” Izzo said, “we proved tonight that we’re not ready to handle any kind of success.”