Delvon Roes throws down a dunk against Duke earlier thyis season. (Getty Images)
East Lansing-- For a few brief moments on Thursday night, the Breslin Center crowd, and likely the entire Michigan State fan base, held its breath.
For more than 39 minutes, they watched the Michigan State basketball team play like they had been expected to all season. The Spartans defended hard, ran out on the break, crashed the boards and hit plenty of open shots.
The emotion was there, the fire was there. And the crowd was eating it up.
Then, as quickly as the Spartans appeared to be turning around the momentum in a frustrating season, it all crumpled to the ground in the form of Delvon Roe, pounding his fist on the court in pain after his right knee was injured on what would be his final two points in a 15-point night.
The knee problems that have hampered the one-time star-to-be from Euclid, Ohio, have been well documented. He no longer has the explosive moves he had in high school -- at least not on a consistent basis.
But he has never let the injuries stop him from playing. Last season, he played the better part of the final few months with a torn meniscus, never telling anyone about the pain he was going through until the season was almost over.
So when Roe was undercut by Penn State's Billy Oliver with less than 20 seconds to play in a blowout victory for the Spartans, it was almost as painful to watch as it was for Roe to experience.
Draymond Green, who had just completed a triple-double with his 10th assist on the pass to Roe, raced down the court to check on his friend. Tom Izzo jumped off the bench and tried to calm down the 6-foot-8 junior. The look on their faces seemed to tell the story, "This might be it for him."
But if anyone is surprised by what happened next, maybe they simply haven't paid any attention to Roe's career.
Roe placed his palms on the court, pushed himself up and hopped to his feet.
Green was there to ask him if he was OK, but Roe wasn't thinking about that.
"I asked him if I made it and did you get it," Roe said, wondering if his layup went in and Green got his triple-double. "That's all that mattered. He was trying to see if I was all right. But I said, 'Don't worry about me, I'll be OK. You get your triple-double, I'm good.'"
MSU hopes depend on Roe
Green got his triple-double, becoming only the third player in Michigan State history to do so. Roe, on the other hand, limped to the bench and hobbled to the training room after the game. Green was there, saying a prayer with his teammate that everything would be OK.
On Friday, the news came that there was no structural damage to the knee and that Roe was listed as day-to-day. On his Twitter account, Roe reassured fans there was no way he wasn't playing Tuesday against Ohio State.
And let's be honest, if Michigan State has any shot at winning in Columbus or reaching the NCAA Tournament, it will need Roe. Sure, his offense comes and goes and because of his knees, the solid defense he can provide isn't there every game.
But what is harder to see is that fire that burns deep inside him. He has never felt sorry for himself about his injuries, instead opting to find other ways to make the Spartans a better team. That was how he became a good defender, he realized that was something he could do, bad knees or not.
Earlier in the week, Roe talked about how even surgery won't take the pain away in his knees. It is something he just has to deal with. And after the game Thursday, Green said more than once how Roe was a "warrior," even suggesting that Roe would play with a broken neck if he had to.
It's an interesting tandem, Green and Roe. The unquestioned leader is Green, the man with the quick wit and the easy smile. But what is becoming clearer is that Roe just might be the heart, exactly what the Spartans need to survive.
For a few minutes on Thursday it looked like that heart might have been stopped. But true to form, Roe simply wouldn't let that happen. He understands what it will take for the Spartans to be successful.
"Draymond and I need to do what we have to do," Roe said. "Draymond with his all-around game and triple-double, and me being able to do all of the little things out there."
And if Michigan State's season ends anywhere near where it was expected to, it will certainly need Green to continue to be outstanding. But it also will need Roe, fighting for every basket, every rebound, every block, every step.