Date: Saturday March 5, 2005 – Breslin Center – East Lansing, MI
Time: 8 p.m.
Michigan State leads the all-time series 21-3. The Spartans downed Penn State 84-58 in the Bryce Jordan Center on 1/5/05 to open up conference play. The Spartans beat Penn State 76-48 last year in the Breslin Center (1/14/04). Penn State's last win over Michigan State was a 65-63 win in the 2001 Big Ten Tournament, and they have yet to grab a win in East Lansing (0-13).
In the aforementioned game back on January 5th, Michigan State broke open a close game with a 44-28 second half burst to down Penn State 84-58. Penn State trailed by only ten at the half (40-30). Geary Claxton made a stellar Big Ten debut with 20 points and four boards to lead Penn State. Alan Anderson led four Spartans in double figures with 17 points, followed by Shannon Brown (16), Maurice Ager (12), and Kelvin Torbert (11).
Earlier this week, Penn State (7-21, 1-14 Big Ten), nearly overcame a 16-point second half deficit, but came up short as they lost 73-69 to visiting Minnesota. After a cold first half, the Lions came out blazing in the second half and, behind freshman Danny Morrissey, nearly pulled off the upset. Morrissey hit six of ten three-pointers and was seven of 13 overall and led Penn State with a season-high 22 points.
Geary Claxton scored 12 points for his 14th double-figure game in 15 Big Ten appearances. Travis Parker ended the game with 11 points, five boards, three assists and two steals while Aaron Johnson notched his 19th career double-double (and 11th this year) with 11 points and 15 boards.
Wednesday night in Evanston, Illinois, Michigan State (21-5, 12-3 Big Ten) withstood a late Northwestern rally to fight off the Wildcats and grab a 69-58 win. The Spartans led NU by 15 at the half (37-22) but were outscored in the second half and pulled away late to secure the win. Alan Anderson led Michigan State with 22 points while Maurice Ager added 20. Michigan State shot .500 for the game, hitting 24 of 48 shots and it out-rebounded the Wildcats 37-25.
On the season, Ager leads Michigan State with a 13.7 ppg mark while Anderson is adding 13.1 and 5.3 rpg. Paul Davis leads the Spartans with a 7.4 rpg average and is scoring 11.9 ppg. Shannon Brown adds 10.7 ppg. Michigan State is shooting .499 from the field, .352 from three-point land and .793 from the stripe. The Spartans own a +8.4 rebound edge and a +15.0 scoring margin.
Center: Michigan State's Paul Davis (6'11" 255) versus Penn State's Aaron Johnson (6'9" 240)
With players like Wisconsin's Mike Wilkinson, Purdue's Carl Landry, and Ohio State's Terrance Dials getting most of the headlines, the Nittany Lions' Aaron Johnson is one of the most underrated big men in the Big Ten this season.
Johnson is the Big Ten's top rebounder (9.7 rpg) and also leads the conference in offensive rebounds (4.0 rpg). He is also averaging 12.4 points-per-game. He has notched 11 double-doubles this season, the last coming Wednesday night versus Minnesota (11 points, 15 boards). Johnson notched 13 points and 9 rebounds versus Michigan State in the Big Ten opener back on January 5th.
Paul Davis (11.9 ppg and 7.4 rpg) and the rest of the Spartan big men will have plenty of work to do the keep Johnson in check Saturday night. Johnson averages 32.8 minutes-per-game and has not fouled out of a game all season, so it's important that Davis be aggressive – but smart – so as not to pick up any offensive foul calls against Johnson. If Davis goes to the bench for an extended period Saturday night, Johnson could really have his way in the paint.
Forward: Michigan State's Alan Anderson (6'6" 220) versus Penn State's Geary Claxton (6'5" 210)
It will be a showdown between a senior and a freshman in this matchup. Claxton has all but locked up Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. He is averaging 12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds on the season overall, and 14.3 ppg and 6.2 rpg in Big Ten play. He scored 20 points in his first game against the Spartans, and will once again be looking to score early and often Saturday night.
Alan Anderson is simply playing the best basketball of his Spartan career; averaging 13.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and shooting an amazing .553 from the field this season (119-of-215). He is averaging 16.6 points over the last 6 games and hit 6-of-6 free throws in the final minutes versus Northwestern Wednesday night to seal the win.
NITTANY LIONS TO WATCH: Forward Travis Parker (6'5" 242) and Guard Danny Morrissey (6'3" 195
Parker is averaging 11.5 ppg and 5.5 rpg on the season, and is coming off a huge game versus Minnesota Wednesday, (11 points, 5 boards, 3 assists and 2 steals). He is a good complement to Johnson and will provide plenty of bulk to contend with Saturday.
Freshman Danny Morrissey continued his strong Big Ten finish with a season-best and game-high 22-point outburst vs. Minnesota on 3/2/05. Morrissey hit six of ten three-pointers in the game and leads Penn State in Big Ten play with a .380 three-point percentage, hitting 30-of-79 treys on the season.
KEYS TO VICTORY:
PENN STATE: Slow the Tempo, Rebound, and Get Back in Transition
The biggest problem Penn State has is depth. They essentially only play 6 players (Johnson, Claxton, Parker, Morrissey, Mike Walker and Ben Luber), with each player averaging at least 25 minutes-per-game during conference play. They must slow the tempo and crash the boards to prevent Michigan State from grabbing defensive rebounds and getting into transition.
If they fail to control the glass and let Alan Anderson, Maurice Ager, Shannon Brown and the rest of the Spartans get out and fill the lanes on the break, it will get ugly fast for Penn State Saturday night.
MICHIGAN STATE: Stop Claxton, Rebound and Run
The Spartans will focus most of their attention on Claxton Saturday. Expect them to give the freshman a variety of defensive looks, with Anderson, Shannon Brown, Kelvin Torbert and Matt Trannon all likely guarding him at various times during the game. If they can hold Claxton at or below his scoring average (14.3), they will be well on their way to victory.
Defensively, they also must control Johnson on the glass. If they can keep Penn State from getting second chances on the offensive end, they will be able to get out into transition and wear down the undermanned Nittany Lions quickly.
PREDICTION: I have a feeling that this game will get ugly fast for the visitors. It will be Senior Night at the Breslin Center as the Spartan faithful will honor each of the five players (Anderson, Torbert, Chris Hill, Tim Bograkos and Andy Harvey) who will be playing their last home game.
This senior class has taken a lot of heat from the fans over the last four seasons. There is little question however that these five players have accomplished a great deal despite what some cynics may say.
I expect them to get a tremendous ovation Saturday night from the fans on hand. Once the game starts, the Spartans will be riding too big an emotional wave for Penn State to overcome.
FINAL: Michigan State 93, Penn State 56