Spartan Cagers Wary of Trap Game

It's early in the Big Ten slate, but Michigan State is already a +2 in road games. The Spartans look to make it three in a row at Happy Valley (where they lost last year) as they face an upstart Penn State squad itching for a signature upset victory.

EAST LANSING — Last season, during Michigan State's journey to the Sweet 16, there were many ups and downs.

Moments in the regular season disappointed some fans and many wondered if the Spartans were mentally tough enough to win the conference and have a successful showing in the NCAA Tournament.

The biggest disappointment came on Feb. 2, 2008, against Penn State. The Spartans were ranked in the Top 10 but fell to the unranked Nittany Lions, 85-76.

On Wednesday, the Spartans make a return trip to Happy Valley, and it still remains in their minds as they prepare to play a surprising Penn State squad.

"This year they're a much better team," MSU coach Tom Izzo said recently. "Of course, you remember last year. It was one of the more disappointing loses I've had."

That's a mouthful when one considers the epic games the Izzo has coached in and some of the heart-breaking first round tournament exits that he has encountered.

Even though the Spartans do remember the loss with vivid memory, they want to make sure that last season's game isn't clouding their minds from focusing on the bigger picture.

"I don't call it revenge. We didn't play that well, and they played pretty well," guard Travis Walton said. "We're all on a mission right now. They're just a team we just have to go out there and take care of business (against)."

Freshman Delvon Roe didn't experience the loss last season, but teammates like Walton have relayed to him the team's objective on Wednesday.

"Everybody's pumped up for it. I wasn't there, so I got to act like I'm pumped for it," Roe said. "Basically, it's another Big Ten game, but it's a road game so it's very important. Whenever you can start 3-0 on the road, that's huge."

Three Nittany Lions in particular hurt MSU a year ago: forward Jamelle Cornley and guards Stanley Pringle and Talor Battle. Cornley totaled 15 points and 6 rebounds as Pringle and Battle scored 19 and 17 points respectively. These three players have been the focus of Michigan State's preparation.

Coach Izzo had high praise for the trio, especially the backcourt.

"I think this is a dynamite twosome. Pringle is shooting the lights out," Izzo said. "There's no doubt him and Battle are two prolific scorers. They got two good guards, and yet I think I got a few good guards, too, so it's going to be a hell of a matchup."

Battle leads the Big Ten in scoring at 18.9 points per game, and he will be shadowed by Walton all night.

"He's a player. He shoots the ball, he pushes the ball, he rebounds, he passes the ball," Walton said. "He's just a good player. He's their engine, so as he goes, they go."

Cornley might not have length (6-foot-5), but he is a savvy, big-bodied guy (240-pounds) who knows how to use his frame to get solid position on the floor. Roe mentioned that the Spartans' experience playing against other quality big men, like Tyler Hansbrough and Cole Aldrich, will not only help them against Cornley, but against other post players that they will ultimately face.

The environment MSU enters as it heads into the Keystone State will be a challenge. Sure, State is playing an unranked opponent that is a heavy underdog, but the difference is that the underdog has immense confidence that they can beat the Spartans. They've already proven that, making this a dangerous game.

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