Taking aim at Purdue shooters pays off for Michigan State
East Lansing – The game plan was clear for Michigan State on Saturday afternoon when it took on Purdue — don’t let the Boilermakers’ shooters win the game.
That meant Purdue’s 7-foot-2 center, Isaac Haas, was going to face man-to-man coverage throughout the game. No double teams, just one-on-one.
It proved to be the right approach in No. 4 Michigan State’s 68-65 victory over No. 3 Purdue as Haas got his — he scored a game-high 25 — but the Boilermakers were just 6-for-19 from 3-point range, including 0-for-5 in the second half.
“They made a decision not to double Isaac and so a lot of people won’t continue to go to the well,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “I wish we would’ve made some threes in the second half. I thought in the first half we had a good balance of making some threes and going inside to him so we wanted to keep going into them, and since they were staying one-on-one, just keep it simple. We were able to do that for the most part.
“They have a lot bodies to throw at you. I think that’s the one benefit that they have. They have a lot of people in there. No one’s really done that, what they just did today. Obviously, the game could’ve gone either way, so one more possession for us, you guys would be talking about us, the greatest thing in the world to do is just keep throwing it to him. So it’s still a good option.”
It was the option Michigan State chose, and it used all that depth. Nick Ward, Gavin Schilling, Xavier Tillman and even Ben Carter got a shot at Haas and Schilling had the most success. The 6-9 senior played a season-high 20 minutes and did his best to disrupt Haas, who was 12-for-22 shooting.
He did his best work in the final minute with the game tied at 65. Schilling forced Haas away from the basket and his jump-hook came up short, setting up Miles Bridges’ winning shot.
“I’ve played him in the past so I know what to expect and this was a must-win game for us,” Schilling said. “We came in with the mindset that we had to do our job. I take pride in playing defense and guarding my guy and getting stops. Tonight, I was able to do that.”
The key, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said, was not wavering for the game plan, even after Purdue hit six first-half threes.
“We stuck with our guns,” Izzo said. “We were just so paranoid with the threes. It gets them going. I’d say 99 percent we stuck to the game plan, which made Ward and Schilling look bad at times, but give our guys credit, you know? Give our fans credit. I know a couple of times I heard some moans, like, ‘What are you doing, you knucklehead?’ And I looked at my staff and said, ‘What are we doing?’ But, we just stuck with it and I give them credit.”
For the second straight game, junior Kenny Goins hit a big shot late.
After a 3-pointer at Iowa on Tuesday helped the Spartans rally, it was his jumper near the free-throw line with 46 seconds to play that tied the game at 65.
“Killed us,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said of Goins’ shot. “He triple-bounced one in at Iowa at the end and helped them win the game. We knew he could shoot. He hit two threes against Maryland, so we’re familiar with what he can do. If you have that five out on the court, that’s the guy you want shooting it. Once again, give him credit. He stepped up and that was a big basket.”
As big as that play was, Goins was equally as important to the Spartans for how he held Purdue’s Vincent Edwards to just eight points on 3-for-11 shooting. He played a career-high 30 minutes and was vital to Michigan State’s defensive success.
“Our game plan was not to give up a lot of threes,” Goins said. “We knew they could score inside. We were playing behind him so it’s not like we were trying to take it away, but we didn’t want to trade threes for a two. We gave up a couple in the first half but the second half we corrected that and it changed the tide of the game.”
Michigan State honored former coach Jud Heathcote at halftime as dozens of his former players, led by Steve Smith, gathered at midcourt along with Heathcote’s wife, Beverly, his children and former Purdue coach Gene Keady.
Heathcote, who died at age 90 in August, led Michigan State to its first national title in 1979 and hand-picked Izzo has his successor. That, Izzo admitted, made Saturday’s game even bigger.
“I got a chance to meet with his wife, Gene and some of those people before the game and I know it wouldn’t have mattered to them and I heard halftime was great,” Izzo said. “But yeah, I wanted to win it for him. I mean, that was his kind of game.”
Izzo said several of Heathcote’s former players were unable to make it to town because of weather, including Gregory Kelser.
“I was thinking to myself about Jud’s last parting shot, it’s up there in the video, was how do you want to be known?” Izzo said. “And he said, ‘I want to be known as a guy that did it the right way and a guy that cared about his players.’ And I was thinking to myself, how well said and probably a lot of us could learn from that.”
Michigan State's 24-3 overall record matches the 24-3 start by the 2000-01 team for the best start to a season in the Tom Izzo era.
… This was the second time this season that Michigan State has hosted a team ranked among the Associated Press Top Five teams in the country ... MSU beat then-No. 5 Notre Dame, 81-63, on Dec. 3.
… Cassius Winston finished with 10 points and 10 assists, his fourth double-double this season and the fifth game of his career with at least 10 points and 10 assists.
… Michigan State's six turnovers tied a season-low (Notre Dame, Dec. 3, 2017).
… Vernon Carey, the top recruit in the nation for the 2019 class, was on hand Saturday taking his official visit to Michigan State.