Just like in the movie 300, these Spartans banded together to make a stronger team. This was one of the most complete team performances this year from No. 7 Michigan State (22-5, 10-3) and Tom Izzo.
After being down by three at halftime, the Spartans regrouped and reloaded to beat short-handed Purdue 76-62 on Sunday. Purdue was battling team issues while dealing with the Spartans. Junior D.J. Byrd, who averaged eight points per game, and fellow junior starting guard Kelsey Barlow were suspended for this game, with Barlow being kicked off the team for good. The duo had gotten into trouble at a local bar two nights before the game.
Senior Robbie Hummel put the team on his back and scored 18 first-half points, ending the game with 24. It was not enough to overcome four Spartans.
Senior Draymond Green had arguably his worst half of the season, but responded well in the second half after an Izzo scolding. Green ended the game with 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. It's the fifth time he has had those stats in his career, joining only Tim Duncan and Evan Turner. Both ended up winning National Player of the Year.
Green has not only put his name atop the Big Ten Player of the Year talks, but he has quietly put his name into the discussion of National Player of the Year.
Junior center Derrick Nix had his second great game. When the Spartans needed points in the first half they went to Nix in the paint. Nix scored 10 points in the first half and kept the Spartans in the game. He ended the game with 12 points and four rebounds on 6-of-8 shooting. The duo of Nix and Adreian Payne has to be considered one of the best in the country. When one of them has a tough night, the other picks up the slack.
Gary, Indiana native Branden Dawson has quite the history with Purdue already for only being a freshman. He chose Michigan State over Purdue in the final weeks after many thought he was going to be a Boilermaker. Purdue coach Matt Painter was upset and when Dawson put up 14 points against Purdue the first time, Painter and Dawson exchanged a few unfriendly words.
This time the Purdue's student section—the "Paint Crew"—vowed to anger Dawson and rained insulting chants at Dawson all game. Dawson responded with 15 dazzling points and 11 rebounds. The scoring effort was summed up in one dunk, which can be viewed above.
My favorite performance came from senior Austin Thornton. Every Spartan fan's worst nightmare was having Thornton lob up a shot during his first three years as a Spartan. Thornton always played a lot of minutes for not contributing much of anything. Thornton has quietly put in one of the most improved senior seasons for a Spartan.
Coming into this season, Thornton shot an ice-cold 17.6 percent from the three-point line. During his senior season, Thornton is shooting 54.8 percent from the three-point line. He scored a career-high 17 points against Purdue, and during his last three games has shot 10-of-15 in field-goal attempts.
The best part was Thornton was throwing up during the Purdue game on the bench. Thornton has gone from our worst nightmare on the court, to a feel-good story.
The Spartans sit atop the Big Ten standings with four games left. In a few weeks they could be raising another Big Ten championship banner, which would of been unheard of at the beginning of the season.