Cougars Can't Hold On Against Spartans

The Cougars lost their battle with the Spartans from Michigan State on Saturday, 68-61. Behind the second-half shooting of Drew Neitzel and execution by the entire Spartan team, Michigan State was able to overcome a 10-point halftime deficit to beat the Cougars in Salt Lake City. Grades are in for the game.

Point Guard: B

This was arguably Murdock's worst game of the season. In a game where he only sat for two minutes in the first half, Murdock was not himself. He ended the game with eight points on 2-7 shooting from beyond the arc. After missing his first five shots, he seemed to not have confidence in his jumper. This allowed his defender to sag off him into the passing lane around the post and Trent Plaisted, causing the entire Cougar offense to struggle to get into a rhythm. Murdock turned the ball over three times. Two of those turnovers were due to uncharacteristic lazy passes from him, and the other was a momentum-swinging turnover. Late in the game when the Cougars needed a stop and the fans were cheering loudly, Travis Walton slashed through the lane with about six seconds left on the shot clock and threw up a floater. Plaisted swatted the shot and the crowd went crazy, but the ball was then ripped from Murdock and Walton had an easy layup that changed the momentum immediately. While Murdock was a perfect 2-of-2 from the line, he needed to hit some of those early shots to help his confidence and turn the ball over less. I was surprised to see that Murdock only had three turnovers at the end of the day, as it appeared he had more. He did play good defense against Travis Walton and Kalin Lucas, who had a combined 14 points, but six of those came from the clutch free-throw shooting of Walton in the final minute when the Cougars were trying to get the ball back.

Shooting Guard: B+

Burgess had 15 points and was better than 50 percent from the field (5-9), but also allowed Drew Neitzel to get hot in the second half when he scored 13 of his 15 points. Granted, Neitzel is a pure-shooting preseason All-American who ran off what appeared to be two screens every possession . Burgess was one player that was consistent in the second half, as he hit a three-pointer late in the game and had an ‘and-one' play that kept the Cougars in the game. At times Burgess looks timid when he has the ball and at others he looks like a three-year veteran. He needs to consistently play like a three-year veteran for the Cougars. To score 15 points against a top-10 opponent shows his capabilities are there. Burgess also had four assists to go along with three turnovers. Jimmer Fredette ended the game with three points, but those three points came in a big way. With 11:41 left in the second half and the Cougars struggling to get anything going on offense, Fredette fired up a three-pointer with four seconds on the shot clock. The shot appeared to be at least a foot behind the professional three-point line. It put the Cougars ahead 43-41 and gave them great momentum. Fredette also forced the Spartans into a five-second violation on their sideline by blocking the passing lane of Neitzel. He was a valuable asset off the bench and should continue to contribute in the future.

Small Forward: C

Lee Cummard continued his woes of getting into foul trouble in big games, as he fouled out and only played 20 total minutes. Early on he was playing exceptionally well and causing problems for the Spartans' defense. He had seven of the Cougars' first 15 points and did not miss a shot. He hit a three-pointer early and hit a couple of difficult jumpers, one that was a turn-away jumper from the baseline. Those were the only three shots that he took the whole game, as he could not get himself into a rhythm due to foul trouble. He had a couple questionable calls against him, but this is his third year starting and he needs to be smarter defensively. With consistent minutes from Cummard, the outcome could have been much different, as Raymar Morgan ended the game with 17 points and the Cougars could not get anything going offensively in the second half.

Power Forward: C-

Jonathon Tavernari simply did not show up on Saturday. He ended the game with eight first-half points on two three-pointers and a turn-around jumper from the free-throw line. He was 2-10 from the field and got a lucky roll on one of his three-pointers early in the game that went in. He contributed with four rebounds, though the Spartans beat the Cougars 23-14 on the glass. He also had two turnovers and one steal. Coach Rose said in an interview after the game that the concern with Tavernari is that the coaching staff needs to put him in a better position to take good shots. Tavernari felt pressure to score in this game and did not come through. Down 62-58 with a 1:02 to go, he shot up an air ball three-pointer that hit off of Plaisted and gave the ball back to the Spartans. He then missed another three-pointer with 23 seconds remaining. He simply must play better in big games, and if he is not shooting the ball well he needs to find other ways to contribute.

Center: B+

As the highlight of the game, Plaisted proved to be why he is considered as one of the best big men in the country. He scored 19 points and contributed eight rebounds in 37 minutes of play. Plaisted was going against two very good big men in Goran Suton and Drew Naywick, and they were very physical against him. It appeared as if Plaisted received contact on every play he touched the ball, but could not seem to get a call.

Plaisted struggled from the free-throw line, as he was 3-8. With 8:25 to play in the second half and down 47-46, Trent missed the front end of a one-and-one from the free-throw line. He was 1-5 from the free-throw line in the second half. The Cougars as a team shot a measly 62 percent, whereas the Spartans shot 81 percent. Trent could have had one of the best games of the year if he could have hit some of those free throws down the stretch, but even missing some of those he kept the Cougars in the game with his play in the post.

Bench: B-

Fredette contributed with his big three-pointer and good defense, but he only ended the game with three points. Chris Collinsworth also contributed with four points in 19 minutes of play, as he was in a good part of the game for Lee Cummard because of foul trouble. Vuk Ivanovic was horrible in his four minutes of play, as he threw an errant pass behind his back under the Cougars' basket. Coach Rose will have to find someone that can spot Plaisted some minutes because Ivanovic and Chris Miles certainly are not doing it right now.

Coaching: B

Coach Rose had his Cougars ready to play in front of 16,142 people, most of which were Cougar fans. The Cougars had a 10-point lead going into halftime, but could not hold on. Tom Izzo said after the game that the Spartans' second-half performance was, "some of the best execution we have done in years."

With that being said, I'm sure it was difficult for the Cougars to really slow the Spartans down. Michigan State is certainly a top-10 team and should go very far into the tournament. The Cougars had their chance to knock them off in a place full of BYU fans, but could not hold on. Coach Rose needs to find a way to utilize his bench more, especially in the post. Michael Loyd, Ivanovic, and Miles will need to contribute more for the Cougars in order for the team to reach its full potential. One thing that is nice for Coach Rose and the Cougars is the fact that they will not face another team as good as Michigan State until March Madness. In the meantime, the Cougars need to find some depth and work on their free throws.

Up Next: Lamar University at 7:00 Wednesday (12/12/07) at the Marriot Center.

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