Whenit comes the NCAA Tournament, there is not a coach or a team that has abetter reputation than Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans. Theyonce again proved that reputation well-earned on Thursday, defeating theCrusaders 65 -54 in a game that was not as close as the score wouldindicate.
Whilethe 26-9 13th seeded Horizon League champs were not the stiffest ofcompetition, the Crusaders are a well coached program that finished 6thin the NCAA in shooting percentage, and the Spartans sent a clear signalto the rest of the field with such a dominant performance.
Earlyin the game, the Crusaders were competitive, keeping the score 8-8 withjust a little over 11 minutes left to play in the first half. Then, theathletic superiority of the Spartans kicked in, and Valparaiso begansettling for shots as the stifling Michigan State defense createdturnovers and kept the Crusaders from penetrating.
Michigan State closed the half with a 35-18 lead.
TheSpartans emerged from halftime equally hot, expanding their lead to49-20. Valparaiso then went on an 11-0 run to close the gap to 18points. The Crusaders would continue to slowly move in the rightdirection to keep the loss to 11 points.
Valparaisowas led by Senior guards Ben Boggs and Erik Buggs who contributed 15and 14 points a piece. The two typically play more minor roles for theteam.
MichiganState was led by a dominant 23 point performance by Senior forwardDerrick Nix who averages only 9.5 ppg. Leading scorers Keith Appling andGary Harris contributed 15 and 10 points.
Atthe beginning of the game it was revealed that former Spartan greatslike Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson had called players with thesimple message of “we are Michigan State, and this is our time of theyear.”
Itis clear Izzo’s team will carry that mentality throughout thetournament, and the Spartans will move on to play the winner of the 2:45game between Memphis and St. Mary’s