The Michigan State Spartans picked up a hard-fought victory over the Texas Longhorns on the road 92-78 on Saturday.
Just three days after the unranked Longhorns traveled to Chapel Hill and upset No. 14 North Carolina, it appeared that a scrappy Texas team might be able to keep the momentum going. Instead, Michigan State proved that it's more than capable of winning tough games on the road.
The Spartans were not only the more efficient team offensively, shooting 50 percent from the floor, but they also owned a distinct advantage on the glass, 42-33.
The young Longhorns showed that they wouldn't be intimidated by Michigan State's lofty ranking at home from the outset. They opened the game with an 8-2 run and rarely trailed in the first half despite shooting just 35.3 percent as a team.
Texas made up for a lack of efficiency from the field by getting to the line early and often. It held the first-half advantage in free-throw attempts by a 13-4 margin.
Leading the way for Texas in the first half was sophomore center Cameron Ridley. The big man in the middle was tasked with going against Michigan State's Adreian Payne, and he responded with a strong 13-point, five-rebound effort in the first frame.
As Greg Anthony noted, the matchup in the post was an interesting one to watch unfold:
Payne's shown versatility and Ridley has been a LOAD, both putting on a show! Wanna see which team can take away the other's transition.— Greg Anthony (@GregAnthony50) December 21, 2013
The real story of the first half was Texas' ability to take advantage of Michigan State turnovers:
#StatThatMatters: Points off turnovers in first half: Texas 17, MSU 4— Texas Basketball (@TexasMBB) December 21, 2013
Unfortunately for Texas, things leveled out a bit for the Spartans in the second half. A more composed and settled Michigan State team reduced the turnovers and began to separate from the Longhorns as the game wore on.
#Big12Insider Michigan State 14-6 run over the last 3 minutes has given the No. 5 Spartans a 64-56 lead on UT with 8:13 to play.— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) December 21, 2013
Michigan State's experience and depth proved to be difference makers in the second half. While Ridley failed to match his first-half impact, Payne continued to score at will on the inside and led the Spartans to a strong second half.
The guard tandem of Gary Harris and Travis Trice were big boosts offensively for Sparty off the bench. Both reserves combined for 27 points, and Trice went 3-of-4 from beyond the arc.
With a comfortable cushion in hand, the Spartans kept Texas at arm's length despite mediocre performances from guards Keith Appling and Denzel Valentine, who went just 5-of-19 combined from the field for 12 points.
All isn't lost for Texas. In the first half of this contest, the Longhorns showed why they should be considered a dangerous team, but the final result is the latest example of why Michigan State has to be considered a Final Four contender.
|Alex Gauna, F||D|
|Adreian Payne, C||A|
|Keith Appling, G||C-|
|Branden Dawson, G||B+|
|Denzel Valentine, G||C+|
|Gavin Schilling, F||C|
|Gary Harris, G||B+|
|Travis Trice, G||B+|
|Alvin Ellis III, G||D|
|Jonathan Holmes, F||B|
|Cameron Ridley, C||B|
|Demarcus Holland, G||C|
|Isaiah Taylor, G||C-|
|Kendal Yancy, G||C|
|Connor Lammert, F||C|
|Prince Ibeh, C||C-|
|Martez Walker, G||C|
|Javan Felix, G||C+|
|Damarcus Croaker, G||B-|
Player of the Game: Adreian Payne (C, Michigan State)
Payne is the easy choice here. The senior center dominated in the paint throughout the game.
Facing their first true road test of the season, the Spartans got off to a lackluster start. Fortunately, Payne displayed his leadership by pacing the offense, while the rest of the team shook off an upstart Texas squad.
When the rest of his team started playing well in the second half, he didn't let his foot off the gas. He ended with an incredible 33 points and nine rebounds on 10-of-13 shooting from the field.
While Texas' Ridley was able to compete in the first half, Payne continued his dominance and led his team to the victory. That's why he's considered one of the best big men in the country.
The Spartans will get a nice break in the schedule now. They take a week off during the holiday season and welcome the New Orleans Privateers to East Lansing on Dec. 28. Texas will have nine days off before taking on the Rice Owls at home on Dec. 30.