Lucas Becoming "Straw That Stirs The Drink"

With apologies to FoxSports.com's Jeff Goodman who wrote earlier this week that Memphis' Derrick Rose and UCLA's Kevin Love are the "only star freshman left" in the NCAA tournament, Michigan State will trot out a player who seems ready to shine brightly on the biggest stage he's faced yet.

EAST LANSING - MLB Hall of Fame outfielder Reggie Jackson once said of his presence on a talent-laden New York Yankees roster; "I'm the straw that stirs the drink."

Don't look now, but freshman Kalin Lucas appears to be taking that role for the Michigan State Spartans as they prepare for their seventh Sweet Sixteen appearance in eleven seasons under Coach Tom Izzo.

It isn't like MSU hasn't seen talented freshmen before.

Hall of Fame point guard Ervin "Magic" Johnson averaged 17 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.4 assists as a freshman in leading the Spartans to the Sweet Sixteen before losing to eventual National Champion Kentucky.

Lucas (10.2 ppg, 3.8 assists, 1.6 rebounds) doesn't have those kinds of numbers, and his game looks nothing like Johnson's. In fact, he looks more like Johnson's former best friend, Detroit Piston legendary guard Isiah Thomas or better yet, Wake Forest and New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul.

Whatever the case, Lucas' inspired play on the point - whether leading the Michigan State fast break or getting into the paint and slashing to the basket - have him gaining national noteriety as well.

"Somebody better tell (Kalin Lucas) he's a freshman," exclaimed CBS Sports analyst Seth Davis as he watched Lucas' sensational 19-point performance against Pittsburgh in the Spartans 65-54 win.

Lucas, combining with senior Drew Neitzel, broke open a close game and turned it into a nine point win for State. Neitzel scored eight straight points to give MSU a five-point lead, but Lucas added the dagger with a slashing move to the basket for two and then after a Neitzel steal, hit a breakaway layup to put the game on ice.

Lucas confounded Pitt's normally solid defense with several drives through the heart of it, many times catching the defenders off-guard.

"When I went coast-to-coast, the coaches were telling me when I get the ball to push it," explained Lucas. "So that's what I did, I just pushed the ball up the floor and I saw an open lane to the basket."

Toward the end of the first half, Pitt's defense tightened on Neitzel, but Lucas responded by scoring the last six points of the half for Michigan State including, after a Pitt steal which briefly tied the game, a dizzing drive through the Pitt defense for a half-ending layup regaining MSU's two-point advantage.

"I think in the first half they were denying Drew (Neitzel) a little bit, so I think my teammates were finding me; finding me for open shots, whether I was curling or I was trying to come off screens," said Lucas.

With apologies to FoxSports.com's Jeff Goodman who wrote earlier this week that Memphis' Derrick Rose and UCLA's Kevin Love are the "only star freshman left" in the NCAA tournament, Michigan State will trot out a player who seems ready to shine brightly on the biggest stage he's faced yet, in Lucas who'll likely go head-up against Rose on Thursday in Houston, TX.

Let's see if there's room for one more star on this stage.

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