Michigan State coach Tom Izzo wasn’t wrong about much when his team faced Penn State at the Jordan Center Sunday afternoon. The future Hall of Famer pushed all the right buttons as the No. 5 Spartans crushed the Nittany Lions 92-65.
Izzo expertly sent his athletic players at PSU in waves, with each group of subs seeming every bit as effective as the men they replaced. He smoothly eased Denzel Valentine back into the rotation after the preseason All-American missed four games due to minor knee surgery.
MSU shot 50 percent from the arc, 80 percent from the stripe, turned the ball over just six times and held a 40-32 rebounding edge — all areas that have become hallmarks of Izzo teams.
But Izzo was wrong about one thing after the game. While going out of his way to lavish praise on the clearly overmatched Nittany Lions, Izzo said of PSU coach Pat Chambers, “I think he’s probably disappointed and upset. I think they’re better than they played today.”
Chambers, however, was remarkably composed when he met the media following the blowout loss. And he insisted he was the same way in the locker room.
“I didn’t yell, I didn’t scream (because) this is a long season,” he said. “… I said, long season, this game is over, put it behind us — no excuses, no pointing fingers, stay together, let’s move on now. … That’s what we have to do. And get better.”
It is probably as good a strategy as any, because the Nittany Lions (10-7, 1-3) were cursed with a brutal opening a couple of weeks into their Big Ten schedule. Included were losses at current No. 3 Maryland and Michigan, then a bit of a reprieve with a home game (a win) over struggling Minnesota.
Then the powerhouse Spartans rolled into the BJC, and looked every bit of the No. 1 team they were before Valentine’s surgery. Next came road trips to No. 20 Purdue and surging Northwestern.
PSU could well find itself at 1-5 in the conference, even if it plays well in West Lafayette and Evanston (as it did in College Park).
“We are going to pick ourselves back up,” Chambers said after the MSU loss. “It is going to be one of those years that we are going to be up and we are going to be down, and that’s OK, as long as we continue the process of getting better and getting these younger guys good minutes, show them how to be a good basketball player, and how to play in the Big Ten.”
A crowd of 10,855 was on hand for the game, and with PSU students still not technically back from semester break, we’d estimate about one-third of the fans were MSU backers.
They did not have to wait long for their team to seize control of things.
PSU center Julian Moore energized the home fans when he hammered home a dunk to draw the Lions within 12-7 at the 12:55 mark of the first half.
But then Izzo’s crew found its stride, ripping off 11 straight points — including a pair of open 3-pointers by guard Bryn Forbes — to make it 23-7. PSU was never really in it the rest of the way.
It was not that the Nittany Lions gave up. They actually cut the lead to seven (27-20) on a Moore jumper with 3:31 left in the opening half. But rather, Michigan State clearly was able to stomp on the accelerator whenever it wanted.
“That’s a really good basketball team … really good,” Chambers said.
Izzo rotated a dozen players in the first half, and was able to limit Valentine to 13 minutes off the bench (he missed all five of his shots). But the Spartans didn’t need him.
Forbes ended the half with 20 and forward Gavin Shilling added 11 as MSU took a 40-27 lead into the locker room. Shilling also did great work locking down PSU leading scorer Brandon Taylor, who made only 1 of 4 first-half shots.
Michigan State began the second half with a 14-7 run to blow it open. The lead grew to as many as 31 (76-45) before Izzo emptied his bench. He played 15 men in all.
TAKING IT EASY
Because Michigan State is so deep, it only seemed like the Spartans were piling it on in the second half. But they weren’t.
After torching PSU for 20 in the first half, Forbes played only nine minutes and did not attempt a shot in the second. Likewise, Shilling played only six second-half minutes, attempting one shot, and Izzo tasked someone else with guarding Taylor.
Valentine saw 10 minutes in the second half and pumped up six shots (making four). But that was understandable for someone working their way back into the rotation.
The only Nittany Lion to get anything done consistently before the game became a laugher was Shep Garner. With cousin Flavor Flav cheering him on from the stands, Garner made 7 of 14 shots for a team-high 19 points.
Moore added 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting and Devin Foster came off the pine for a dozen points. Taylor had issues with MSU’s long, aggressive defenders, making only 3 of his 12 shots for 10 points.
Starting rookie guard Josh Reaves seemed overwhelmed in his first game against the Spartans, so Chambers limited him to 15 minutes. He finished with one point.
Starting center Jordan Dickerson played only seven minutes due to foul trouble and did not score. He did have a pair of blocks, though.