MSU finally finds free-throw shooting touch
Champaign, Ill. – Even Travis Trice had to laugh and shake his head for a moment.
The Michigan State senior was contemplating the fact his team had just won a big game on the road, thanks in large part to its effort at the free-throw line.
"It's kind of ironic because that is how we lost the game the last time, because of free throws," Trice said. "So it felt good to get the win because we shot well at the free throw line."
Michigan State didn't just shoot well at the line in its 60-53 victory over Illinois, it shot better than it has all season. The Spartans were 17-for-20, good for 85 percent. It was only the second time all season they had shot better than 80 percent, going for 83.3 percent in a win over Marquette in November.
"The foul line has been an emphasis for a month and a half," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said with a small laugh. "Two months. Seriously I mean, every day, every day, every day. You know it really has. So, I can't take credit or blame for that but it has been an emphasis."
And it has been much better in Michigan State's four-game win streak as the Spartans are now 42-for-57 in the last four games.
Izzo isn't convinced that means the Spartans have turned the corner, but there is little doubt the confidence is soaring.
"It was really important for us," said Denzel Valentine, who was 6-for-6, including hitting four in the final 1:17, "especially for me and Travis. We are two of the best free-throw shooters on the team so we had to make our free throws at the end. So it was cool and we've been working on them hard. It was cool to see them go down."
Foul trouble has been a problem for Michigan State for much of the season, especially for centers Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling.
It reared its head again on Sunday with each picking up two fouls in the first half and Costello eventually fouling out. That meant significant time for former walk-on Colby Wollenman, and he made the most of it.
And early in the second half, Wollenman had the highlight of his career, driving down the lane for a two-handed dunk.
"I wish I had given a little more celebration afterward," the junior said. "That was pretty awesome and I enjoyed that. I definitely surprised everybody, including me. I didn't react because I didn't know what was going on. I dunked and thought, 'Get back on defense.' It was cool."
Entering Sunday's game, Branden Dawson was averaging 12.4 points and 10.1 rebounds. Under Izzo, Draymond Green is the only Spartan to record a double-double for an entire season, averaging 16.2 points and 10.6 rebounds in 2011-12.
Dawson has posted double-doubles in eight of 13 Big Ten games, leading all players in conference games, and has nine overall this season.
He came up just shy of another double-double on Sunday, scoring 13 points and grabbing seven rebounds.