Spartans pound glass with venom in taking down Tigers
Washington — Tom Izzo wanted one part of the game plan to get through loud and clear to his team.
So, as No. 2 Michigan State spent the couple days getting ready to take on No. 3 LSU in the East Region semifinals of the NCAA Tournament, the Spartans coach had signs posted all around the locker room and the team hotel.
They had a simple message.
“Cut out and rebound. Cut out and rebound. Cut out and rebound,” Izzo said.
Cutting out is the phrase Michigan State uses for boxing out, and it was critical on Friday against an LSU team that was among the leaders in the nation in offensive rebounding, led by 6-foot-11 Kavell Bigby-Williams and 6-10 Naz Reid.
But Michigan State heeded the message, dominating the glass in the first half and finishing the game seven better than LSU as the Spartans rolled over the Tigers, 80-63, to reach the East Region final on Sunday against top-seeded Duke.
Kenny Goins grabbed 11 rebounds for Michigan State, which finished with 41 to LSU’s 34. Xavier Tillman and Aaron Henry grabbed eight each while Nick Ward pulled down five.
“I did think we did a great job the first half with cutting out,” Izzo said. “I thought we got tired that when Nick got hurt, Xavier and Kenny really struggled down the stretch because I think it was fatigue. But we've always been a good rebounding team. Maybe it is in the water, but we're not as good as we used to be. But tonight, we rose up and probably made all those former (players) proud, and I'm excited about that.”
Michigan State held a 21-10 rebounding advantage in the first half as LSU had just three offensive rebounds and only four second-chance points. The Tigers started to get after the glass in the second half, helping spark a couple of runs the Spartans eventually pushed back.
LSU finished the game with 14 offensive rebounds and 15 second-chance points.
“When you put an emphasis on it, it’s easy to start off that way,” Goins said. “In the second half we lost a little focus. They came after us on the glass, but once we shored it up that is when we were able to secure the game.”
Michigan State now faces a Duke team that averages 13.2 offensive rebounds a game. The Blue Devils grabbed eight in their win over Virginia Tech on Friday night.
The Spartans hope to repeat their work on the glass when they face the Blue Devils, along with taking care of the ball — they had just seven turnovers — and getting open shots.
“Normally my teams are pretty good at that,” Izzo said of the rebounding. “Not quite as good this year, but cut out and rebounding, the turnovers and the get into the lane and kick out were three things that we wanted to do. Very seldom do you do all three things and today we did all three things.”
Ward and the Spartans got a scare in the second half when the junior center hit the ground hard as he was battling LSU’s Reid for a rebound.
With just less than seven minutes left in the game, Ward fell to the floor and hit his left hand hard on the court. It’s the same left hand he broke in late February, an injury that required surgery. He missed five games before returning for the Big Ten tournament.
Ward stayed on the ground for a few minutes then jogged to the locker room to get X-rays. Those tests were negative.
“It’s just a bruise,” Ward said in the locker room.
The 6-9 junior admitted he was worried when he first hit the ground, but the negative X-rays put his mind at ease. His status for Sunday is questionable but barring any soreness, he should be OK to play.
After the game, Izzo wasn’t making any predictions about Ward’s status but was hopeful Ward would be able to play.
“I thought Nick would need to have a big game, and some of the matchups were a little tough,” Izzo said. “But we're going to need Nick whoever we play, and hopefully he'll be able to come back. I don't know any more than that right now. I'm sure it's day to day. There's no break or serious injury. It's just how bad it's bruised, and (being) on his shooting hand could create a few problems I guess.”
Duke dinged up
Michigan State has had injuries to deal with this season, but Duke has had its share as well.
In Friday’s win over No. 4 Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils found out just before the game that freshman Cam Reddish would not play because of a sore knee.
The 6-8 freshman had started all 35 games this season and is averaging 13.6 points a game for the Blue Devils.
“Right before the game — we didn't know until right before the game that he was not going to be able to play,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He went out. He just had something wrong with his knee. He was limping, but we didn't find out until right before the game.”
Krzyzewski added he did not know what Reddish’s status for Sunday’s game is.
Sunday's regional final between No. 1 Duke against No. 2 Michigan St. will be the 47th 1 vs. 2 regional final. The all-time record in such games is 23-23. Since 1985, the 1 vs. 2 regional final has materialized 47 out of 140 possibilities (33.6 percent).
… Krzyzewski was asked about Michigan State and had this to say: “Obviously, I know Cassius Winston is maybe the best point guard in the country. He's MVP of the Big Ten. And Tom's program — their program of great offensive rebounding, toughness, togetherness, you know, we'll try to put something together.
“But we'll have to rebound against them. I know that. And how do you try to figure out how to guard Cassius? And Tom's done a great job with this team because they've had injuries. And he's one of the great coaches and a good friend. So it will be an honor.”
NO. 2 MICHIGAN STATE VS. NO. 1 DUKE
Tip-off: 5:05 p.m., Sunday, Capital One Arena, Washington
Records: Michigan State 31-6; Duke 32-5
Next up: Winner advances to Final Four and will face West Region champion, Gonzaga or Texas Tech.