January 20, 2012

Notebook: Spartans expect to emerge tougher, wiser

EAST LANSING - The sting of anger caused by Michigan State's 60-59 loss to Michigan goes beyond in-state drama. For the players, losing a pair of league games in succession exacerbates the pain.

"Not just because of the Michigan game but because of the simple fact that we've lost two games in a row,'' said Appling, who is averaging 12.7 points a game. "So of course, there's still going to be some anger lingering but we're just going to look to take it out on our next opponents.''

The Spartans (15-4 and 4-2), who will face Purdue at noon on Saturday in the first of two consecutive home games, are hoping to get back on the winning track following tough road losses at Northwestern and Michigan.

Still, senior forward and captain, Draymond Green, who himself, said he was just starting to get over the loss following Thursday's practice, had some words of warning.

"Of course, (I'm still angry) but I'm fine,'' said Green, MSU leading scorer and rebounder at 15.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. "It was a learning experience and I'll definitely be angry until I win again, but it is what it is. It's in the past and you can't do nothing about it now. You've just got to look forward to Purdue.''

That means correcting some errors and shortcomings.

"Our energy level wasn't where it needed to be and we didn't make the plays down the stretch to get the stop that we needed to make but it's over with now and we just have to move on," Green said. "But it definitely bothers you. For anybody who's a competitor, it's going to bother you but it's in the past. It's time to move on.''

Moving on means being ready to face a Boilermaker team that is always a tough matchup physically. Additionally, Matt Painter's teams are always tough to play against because their attention to defense and rebounding is similar to the philosophy held by the Spartans.

"It's hard (coming of the loss to U-M) but at the end of the day, we know we have a tough team in Purdue coming in on Saturday and one thing we can't do is let that loss lead us into another loss,'' Green said. "We have a couple of home games coming up and we just have to make sure we take care of our business at home. You know a lot of people think when you're home you're just going to win, but we want to make sure guys understand it doesn't matter if you're at home, you've still got to come out and play the game.''

Now We Know

One area that was painstakingly talked about but could never be properly duplicated during the week leading up to MSU's one-point loss to Michigan was the intensity and passion of the rivalry.

Obviously, upperclassman captains such as Green and Austin Thornton were well-versed in all of the intangibles that go into an MSU-U-M basketball game, but freshmen such as Travis Trice, Branden Dawson and Brandan Kearney, each of whom provided contributions in the game, had no idea what the atmosphere would really be like. Even senior guard Brandon Wood, a transfer from Valparaiso who had never taken part in the Spartan-Wolverine rivalry, had trouble wrapping his head around what to expect in a during the game.

"To be honest, there really wasn't any big rivalry game (when I was at Valpo),'' Wood said. "I would say pretty much all of the conference games (in the Horizon League) are kind of rivalry games but nothing like Michigan State-Michigan. During the week, I got a sense going in what it meant, especially to the guys from Michigan who have to go through going back to their hometown and hearing it, and getting a hard time from all of their people. But I could definitely tell it was a rivalry game and that you've got to step up your intensity.''

Kearney, a Detroit native, may have had a little better insight than fellow frosh Trice, an Ohio native and Dawson, an Indiana product. But like Wood, until you're actually in the throes of a game between the two schools, you are somewhat handicapped in your knowledge of the extra effort it takes to maintain success throughout a game of that magnitude.

"Coming in and being from Ohio, I knew about the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry but I really didn't know the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry until I got here and we started approaching that game," Trice said. "I mean I remembered going to football games and everything being big about it but I didn't really know how big it was. Afterwards, it hurt just like any other loss but you could see it on guys' faces, during the game, after the game, before the game and even during the week coming up that it was a big game. Especially two days before, guys and the coaches were more intense and you definitely find out, 'it's Michigan week.' ''

On Michigan's side, the Wolverines only had one significant contributor in freshman point guard Trey Burke, who had never really experienced the rivalry first hand.

So while it wasn't and never should be used as an excuse for losing a game to your rival, it did become a hard lesson on how you have to play in one of these games.

"You realize real quick, next time you know what to expect, and you know these next couple of years you better know,'' Trice said.

It's also a stance the Spartans want to take into their game against Purdue (14-5 and 4-2) and the rest of the season.

"We already knew it, but we learned (after the Michigan game) that every single play matters, whether it's a missed layup, not getting back in transition or not reading one of their plays right,'' Wood said. "The small details win game. I mean we played bad in that game and to have only lost by one to them on their court, I feel like it shows what type of team we are. That we can play through adversity but we have to hold ourselves accountable for all of the small details.''

Appling agreed.

"We lost by one point, so that means, one extra basket or one extra stop could have won us that game.''' he said. "Every possession matters.''

Coach Is Always Right

Tom Izzo warned before the start of the conference schedule that the Big Ten champion could end up with four of five losses.

And although his players and members of the media may not have believed him, especially with Ohio State being the favorite to take the title with ease, it seems like Izzo may be right.

With a bevy of upsets that have recently included Nebraska knocking off a ranked Indiana team and Penn State taking down Illinois, who was also ranked, Izzo's prognostication is right on schedule.

"That definitely is a possibility with the way everything has gone,'' Green said. "With the losses that some people have taken, the losses that we've taken, Ohio State has taken, it's just everywhere. But like coach said, the league is probably the best it's been from top to bottom, ever, so guys really do have a possibility of losing every night. So four or five losses may win the league this year.''

Entering this weekend's action, the six teams at or near the top of the Big Ten heap already have two losses.

"A lot of bizarre things are happening but hopefully, we can be on the winning end more than the losing end.''

The Hummel Factor

It has been widely publicized that Green contacted Boilermakers star forward Robbie Hummel, after Hummel was lost for the season with a knee injury, last year. Green called to wish him well.

But by all accounts, Hummel is starting to regain the form he once displayed before the problems with his knee.

Entering Saturday's game, the senior forward is second behind Green in the conference in rebounding. He is averaging 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.

He has led the Boilermakers in scoring 12 times this season and has been the team's top rebounder or tied for the top spot 11 times.

He enters Saturday's game leading a Boilermaker team that has beaten MSU at Breslin the last two times they've visited East Lansing.

"I've been watching him a lot and thought he was playing very well early,'' Green said. "He's kind of slowed down a bit but still for him to be doing . . . I think he's averaging something like 16.5 points a game and six or seven rebounds . . . what he's doing coming off what he came off of is still amazing.

"You know, I watched a guy like Kalin Lucas, who last year didn't get back to full speed until about maybe February, and he was one the fastest guys I knew, so, of course, Robbie's not back to full speed but you can definitely tell he's coming back into himself.''


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