The Michigan State Spartans made a daring trip to Spokane, WA on Saturday night to face off against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at the McCarthey Athletic Center. The Zags rarely drop a game at their home court, but a monster performance by senior forward Draymond Green was enough to propel the Spartans to a 74-67 victory in this hard-fought battle.
Green scored a career high 34 points in the win behind 11-13 shooting from the floor including four of five from long range. The Spartan captain showcased his all-around scoring ability in this one by hitting from long distance in the post and converting from the free-throw line.
With just two rebounds, the game marked Draymond’s season low for that category. However, combined with his three assists, three steals and the large point total, the performance was anything but disappointing.
No other Spartans cracked double digits in points, but MSU big men Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix put in nine and eight respectively in a game where each center showed vast improvement from the Spartans’ first two games against ranked opponents.
Each looked comfortable in the paint on both sides of the floor, especially Nix who displayed great touch with his back to the basket against formidable Gonzaga big man Robert Sacre.
Each team made their fair share of mistakes, both totaling 15-plus turnovers, and the Zags were never able to get out of their own way as they mounted a couple of strong comebacks late in the second half.
Point guard David Stockton, son of Hall of Famer John Stockton, sank four of six from three-point land in a valiant effort where he led the Bulldogs with 19 points.
This was an important game for Sparty in that it was their first against a ranked opponent since the rough 0-2 start to the year against UNC and Duke. MSU looked much more calm and collected in this one, and it was clear that they have become more comfortable on the floor than they were at the season’s onset.
Now sporting an eight-game win streak, the Spartans could crack the top 25 rankings for the first time this year and deservedly so.
Michigan State has three more matchups against lower-tier opponents before kicking off the Big Ten schedule at the Breslin Center against an Indiana Hoosiers club that shocked many in a last-second upset against No. 1 Kentucky.
Look for the Spartans to enter conference play at 11-2 with a lot of steam behind them as this group continues to grow as a unit. While Tom Izzo is definitely never satisfied, he is surely resting easier now than he was after the season’s sub-par beginning.