Unlikely Heroes Smith And Green Give Indiana The Season Sweep Against Michigan State

Coming off the second ever home loss to the Indiana Hoosiers during the Tom Izzo era, there was no way the Michigan State Spartans wouldn’t come into Bloomington and get revenge in a much needed game for the Spartans’ Big Ten Conference Championship chances.

However it looks like Justin Smith didn’t get that memo.

The sophomore forward scored a career-high 24 points, including 3 three-pointers, as the Hoosiers once again stunned the Spartans, this time 63-62 to give IU its second straight win over a ranked opponent as well as the season sweep against Michigan State.

“Attitude is everything,” said Indiana Head Coach Archie Miller when explaining how Smith broke out against the Spartans. “When your attitude is great and you’re focused in on just doing whatever you can to help, good things tend to happen, and I think that’s where Justin really changed his mindset.”

A lightning rod for criticism this entire season, Smith single-handedly shouldered a floundering first half offense that saw players other than Smith hit just 4-of-19 (21.1%) on field goal attempts while he scored 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting. It would end up keeping the Hoosiers in the game long enough for his teammates to get going as a combination of clutch shooting and fantastic defense helped Indiana [15-14 (6-12)] overcome an 11-point second half deficit.

What’s even more impressive is that most of that clutch second half shooting came from fellow “fall guy” Devonte Green.

Known for being consistently inconsistent, Green played a vital role in the second half comeback scoring 11 of his 13 points after halftime and hit two momentum-shifting threes during the final six minutes.

The first one ended a quick 5-0 Michigan State run that had turned a one-possession game into a three-possession game, while the second one occurred with four minutes left and started the final 7-0 run that ended the game.

“When he’s engaged, he’s as talented of a guy as you can have,” said Miller about Green. “When he’s not engaged, obviously he’s like everyone else, it sticks out. I think he was engaged today, made some plays. Devonte hit some really big shots for us in the game to keep us hanging around.”

That 7-0 run spanned the final 4:13, as the Spartans never scored again after a Matt McQuaid jumper. The Hoosiers would finally tie the game on a put back layup from Juwan Morgan, who finished with 7 points and 11 rebounds, and also drew a foul on the basket which led to the go-ahead free throw.

Cassius Winston had an exceptional game for Michigan State [23-6 (14-4)], scoring 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting and also dishing out 11 assists. However, one of his four missed shots came at the worst possible time as his potential game winner with less than eight seconds left was expertly defended by Rob Phinisee.

During a season where the longer it goes the less sense it makes, it’s only fitting that the two most controversial players on the team came to IU’s rescue with the season on the line. Now, as if things couldn’t get more confusing, the Hoosiers find themselves somehow back on the bubble thanks to now having seven Quadrant 1 wins, which are the most prestigious types of wins on an NCAA Tournament resume.

The Hoosiers still need to win their last two regular season games (at Illinois, vs Rutgers), but after two months of disappointment, hope is finally here now that it is March.

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Grit, Toughness, And A Lot Of Rebounds Aren’t Enough For Hoosiers To Overcome Shooting Woes In Close Loss To Spartans

“In East Lansing they punked us. We came to this mindset, this can’t happen (again).”

Those were the words of Juwan Morgan after Indiana’s 63-60 loss to Michigan State in regards to the team’s performance, and what a performance it was on Saturday night.

Just a few weeks ago, the Spartans obliterated the Hoosiers 85-57. Indiana was outrebounded 45-27, outscored 17-6 on second chance points, and outscored 38-18 in the paint.

On Saturday night, the Hoosiers wouldn’t be pushed around. Instead they pushed back. The Hoosiers outrebounded the Spartans 53-29, outscored them 14-0 on second chance points, and outscored them 24-22 in the paint.

Unfortunately it wasn’t enough.

The Hoosiers dug themselves a first half deficit thanks to some horrendous shooting as IU made just 6 of 35 shots (17.1%) during the first 20 minutes. Yet despite a gigantic disadvantage in shooting (Michigan State shot 12 of 24 in the first half), the Hoosiers were still within striking distance going into the second half down just eight points.

The reason for this was because of Indiana’s huge rebounding advantage. Despite being blocked nine times in the first half, the Hoosiers kept crashing the offensive glass and were rewarded with 15 first half offensive rebounds, which is just one shy of how many total rebounds the Spartans had in the first half.

However there is a Yin to every Yang. The absurd amount of offensive rebounds meant that the Hoosiers were missing a lot of shots, which contributed to the low shooting percentage.

To counteract that and keep the Hoosiers in the game, Indiana grabbed all but one of Michigan State’s missed shots in the first half, preventing the Spartans from getting a single second chance point.

The Hoosiers would shoot much better in the second half, hitting 13 of 31 field goal attempts (41.9%) while continuing to own the boards 25-13, yet the Spartans were able to hold on thanks to their extremely efficient shooting.

Despite taking 19 fewer shots over the course of the game, Michigan State stayed ahead thanks to 48.9% overall shooting (23 of 47) compared to the 28.8% overall shooting (19 of 66) of Indiana. The Spartans were also 50% (9 of 18) from three-point range compared to the Hoosiers’ 21.1% (4 of 19).

“(Michigan State) had a lot to do with the (low shooting) numbers, just in terms of impacting the rim and the field goal percentage offense with their shot blocking and their size and they made it hard on us,” said IU Head Coach Archie Miller, who despite having narrowly lost yet again to an elite opponent, was very proud of his team’s toughness.

“Credit our guys. I thought they fought hard and played hard. We’re getting, especially against some really good teams, to the last two or three minutes and just have to find a way to make a couple of plays. And I think that’s what teams who know how to win do, teams like Michigan State and Purdue. With two minutes on the line they know they’re going to win. And right now we’re still trying to figure out how to make those dagger plays to find a way to win.”

Blackmon And McRoberts Step Up In Win Over Michigan State

With the loss of OG Anunoby, the Indiana Hoosiers know they need multiple players to step up to make up for his impact. During the Hoosiers’ 82-75 win over Michigan State on Saturday, those players were the unlikely duo of James Blackmon Jr. and Zach McRoberts.

Already averaging a team-high 17.5 points per game, Blackmon went above and beyond his usual scoring performance as he hit his first six shots (four of which were three-pointers) and finished with 33 points, tying his career-best scoring performance.

“He was ready to shoot,” said Indiana Head Coach Tom Crean. “His teammates did a great job getting him open. He (also) did a great job getting himself open with setups. His lift was good.”

Blackmon’s hot start was part of an incredible shooting display from the Hoosiers in the first half, as Indiana made its first six shot attempts from behind the arc.

“It makes it easier for all of us when (Blackmon) is hitting shots like that,” said Robert Johnson, who also provided an offensive spark with 17 points. “Guys have to try to make a plan to stop him, and that just opens up even more for us.”

While not as flashy as Blackmon’s performance, McRoberts played just as vital of a role in making up for the absence of Anunoby.

The walk-on from Carmel was a surprising choice for the fifth starter, but the risk paid off as McRoberts had his fingerprints all over this game as he finished with three points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a block in 32 minutes of play. He also led the team in +/- with a +14 and deflections with an incredible 16.

“We know what Zach (McRoberts) can do. That’s why we’re confident when he’s out there,” said Blackmon about McRoberts’ impact. “He brings that energy and he does the little things that we need.”

McRoberts’ numbers are magnified because of the direct impact they made. Three of his five rebounds were on the offensive end, one of which set up an easy three-pointer for Blackmon that gave Indiana a 9-8 lead that the Hoosiers wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the game. He even made his only three-point attempt when the Spartan defense played too far off him.

“He works extremely hard,” said Crean. “He’s one of those guys that he wants to make (his teammates) better but he’s got to be reminded that he’s pretty good too.”

The performances of McRoberts and Blackmon showed that the Hoosiers have players capable of stepping up in Anunoby’s absence. It won’t always be them in particular but it reassured fans that the Hoosiers as a team are taking the challenge head-on instead of possibly using it as an excuse. The next few games will let us know who else on the team is ready to rise to the challenge.

Michigan State Earns Big Ten Tournament Championship Through Perseverance (B1G Tournament Recap Day 5)

Michigan State 66, Purdue 62

For the second straight day, the Michigan State Spartans took a comfortable lead into halftime only to hold on for dear life. It doesn’t matter though because the Spartans leave Indianapolis as Big Ten Tournament Champs after a 66-62 victory over Purdue on Sunday.

The Spartans led by as many as 13 points but the Boilermakers starting making shots and soon that lead was down to four after an 11-2 run by Purdue. Yet despite Purdue’s best effort, the Boilers could never wrestle away the lead.

There were multiple chances in the final three minutes when the Spartans made a potentially huge mistake but Purdue couldn’t capitalize. A terrible turnover by Denzel Valentine led to two good looks for the Boilers down by one but they hit neither. Valentine then redeemed himself  by converting on a breath-taking 15-foot jump shot where he adjusted in mid-air to avoid the block attempt. The other one came when Purdue was down two points and Caleb Swanigan took an ill-advised three-point attempt that barely hit the rim.

Yet at the end of the day, it was all about Michigan State persevering. Matt Costello missed a huge free throw with 19 seconds left which Purdue rebounded down two points. Johnny Hill got great penetration for the game-tying layup but at the last moment Costello came from behind and blocked it. Bryn Forbes would then hit two free throws to ice the game.

Valentine won the most outstanding player of the tournament as he finished just one assist short of a triple-double (15 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists).

Maryland Shows Promise And Michigan On The Fence (B1G Tournament Day 4 Recap)

Michigan’s upset win over Indiana on Friday seemed to breathe new life into the Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament chances, but a blowout loss to Purdue now has them even more uncertain of their fate. Meanwhile Maryland may have lost but can at least feel good about the fact that the team is back to playing great basketball. Here are the recaps of how the two teams were bounced from the Big Ten Tournament.


#4 Purdue 76, #8 Michigan 59

A.J. Hammons showed why playing four years in college can make you a better basketball player. He’s been considered a 1st round NBA talent ever since his freshman year but he kept coming back to Purdue every year and now in his senior year he has lead his team to the Big Ten Championship Game after the Boilermakers beat the Michigan Wolverines 76-59.

Hammons finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks while causing Michigan Head Coach John Beilein a migrane all day by constantly adjusting to every defensive strategy thrown at him. Hammons dominated this game and showed just how much he has improved when Purdue needed him most. When Michigan narrowed Purdue’s lead to 60-54 with 7:35 left, Hammons scored five straight points to stretch Purdue’s lead to 11 and it never got below single-digits again. This stretch demonstrated his maturity from his first few seasons to becoming a senior leader on a team that has the potnetial to head to the Final Four. But first, there’s the Big Ten Championship Game.

As for the Wolverines, they have to play the waiting game as they hope that their win over Indiana on Friday was enough to convince the NCAA Selection Committee to place them in the field of 68. Michigan has only four top 100 RPI wins but all four are against teams with RPIs in the top 30. It may depend on if any other mid-major regular season champs steal an automatic bid . For now, Michigan can only sit back and hope that the committee favors them.


#2 Michigan State 64, #3 Maryland 61

Unlike Iowa, it seems Maryland has turned things around as they almost beat the red-hot Michigan State Spartans but ultimately fell 64-61.

The Terrapins took a haymaker from the Spartans as they trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half and went into halftime trailing 41-33. Then the Maryland defense took it up a notch, holding the Spartans to 28.6% shooting in the second half and eventually tying the game at 53 with 10:27 left.

That’s when things stalled as over the course of the final 10 minutes of the game, Maryland had nine offensive possessions with a chance to take the lead (with the Terrapins either tied or down one point) and only once during those nine possessions did the Terrapins succeed in taking the lead, when Robert Carter (who finished with a team-high 18 points) hit two free throws to put Maryland up 57-56 with 6:55 left. Yet on the next Spartans possession Deyonta Davis slammed in a pass from Matt Costello to take the lead 15 seconds after losing it.

Denzel Valentine had a magnificent game (18 points, 7 rebounds, and 10 assists) but missed a crucial free throw with 10 seconds left that gave Maryland a chance to win down 62-61, but Melo Trimble’s contested layup wouldn’t go and didn’t generate a contact foul as the Spartans rebounded the ball and Valentine redeemed himself by sinking both free throws.

Even though they won’t be playing on Sunday for the Big Ten Championship, the Terrapins should be encouraged after going toe-to-toe with possibly the best team in all of college basketball.


Sunday’s Game (Big Ten Championship Game):

#4 Purdue vs #2 Michigan State – 3pm (CBS)

Not only is the final Big Ten game of this college basketball season set to be a great contest between two talented teams, but it may also have big implications for how the NCAA Selection Committee will seed those two teams.

I wrote about in my tournament preview that Michigan State needed to win the Big Ten Tournament to have a shot at a 1-seed, and while they could win on Sunday and still end up a 2-seed, they would have zero chance at a 1-seed if they lost, especially with many other deserving teams not far behind.

Meanwhile Purdue looked to be a lock for a 4 or 5-seed before this week but after two dominant wins, the Boilermakers may be a win over Michigan State away from propelling into a 3-seed, which would help them potentially avoid a 1-seed until the Elite Eight.

Either way, if you are a fan of college basketball you will not want to miss this game.

Clock Strikes Midnight On Illinois and Nebraska (B1G Tournament Recap Day 3)

So far during the Big Ten Tournament, the main story has been the upsets as both Wednesday winners also won on Thursday to advance to the quarterfinals. Sadly, #11 Nebraska and #12 Illinois saw their chances at a magical championship run end on Friday. While Michigan is still in the tournament for everyone wanting to root for an underdog, the Wolverines may get into the NCAA Tournament without winning the Big Ten Tournament, which was not the case for the Cornhuskers or the Illini.


#8 Michigan 72, #1 Indiana 69

After playing a mediocre game against Northwestern, Michigan came to play on Friday as a back-and-forth contest (no team led by more than six points) ended with the pendulum swinging in the Wolverines’ favor as a Kameron Chatman corner three-pointer with just 0.2 seconds left gave Michigan a 72-69 win over number one seed Indiana.

Michigan had missed all 10 of its second half three-point attempts, but made its last two when the team needed them most. After Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell split a pair of free throws, Zak Irvin drove the basketball and kicked it out to Duncan Robinson who made a three-pointer to tie the game at 69 with 46 seconds remaining. He was 0 for 5 before he hit the game-tying shot from the right corner.

Then Michigan was gifted the ball on an OG Anunoby turnover when he tried to drive to the basket with 21 seconds left. It was the only time Anunoby played like a freshman as the rest of the game he did everything to keep Indiana hanging with the Wolverines, finishing with 13 points, two rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three blocks.

Derrick Walton Jr. again failed to make a field goal but finished with 12 assists, none bigger than his great pass to Chatman in the left corner for the game-winner. Irvin led the Wolverines with 17 points while Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman added 15 points. The Hoosiers were led by Troy Williams who finished with 16 points. Thomas Bryant scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds while Ferrell added 14 points and eight assists.


#4 Purdue 89, #12 Illinois 58

Having lost to them earlier in the season, Purdue did not take Illinois as lightly as Iowa might have done. Add that with a thirst for revenge and the Boilermakers steamrolled the Illini 89-58 to advance to the Big Ten semifinals.

The Illini won their first two games of the Big Ten Tournament because of their explosive three-point shooting, but the long ball didn’t fall on Friday as Illinois hit only 4 of 18 from deep. Meanwhile the Purdue pounded the Illini into submission by grabbing 42 rebounds to Illinois’ 24.

The Boilkermakers received great contributions from all three of their talented big men. Isaac Haas led the team with 16 points, Caleb Swanigan recorded a double-double (11 points and 12 rebounds) and A.J. Hammons just missed on another double-double (10 points and eight rebounds). The Illini were led by Maverick Morgan (17 points) and Malcolm Hill (16 points).


#2 Michigan State 81 #7 Ohio State 54

Unlike their archrivals (Michigan), the Ohio State Buckeyes saw their NCAA Tournament chances end gruesomely as the Michigan State Spartans destroyed them 81-54. Big Ten Player of the Year Denzel Valentine was his usual magnificent self as he fell just short of a triple-double finishing with 19 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists.

The Buckeyes had a lot of things go wrong but probably the biggest was outside shooting the team went 1 of 11 from deep. They also went to the free throw line 11 times after going there 00 times against Penn State.

JaQuan Lyle was the only Buckeye to score in double-figures but only scored 10 points and also had five turnovers. Deyonta Davis had 12 points and seven rebounds for the Spartans as Tom Izzo’s team continues its quest for a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.


#3 Maryland 97, #11 Nebraska 86

Nebraska’s quest for five wins in five days ended on Friday when the Cornhuskers lost to Maryland 97-86 but not before they made one last charge. Down by as many as 25 points with 15:46 left in the second half, the Cornhuskers cut it to 92-86 with 1:40 remaining but back-to-back fouls let Maryland end a 18-4 run and hold on to advance to the conference semifinals.

The Terrapins built a huge lead early thanks to pinpoint three-point shooting. Maryland shot 90.0% (9 of 10) from behind the arc and 71.4% overall in the first half. Jake Layman (who scored a game-high 26 points) made 6 of 9 from deep while Melo Trimble made 4 of 8 from long-range.

Trimble finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists. Diamond Stone also played well, adding 23 points and eight rebounds. For Nebraska, Andrew White III scored 25 points while Shavon Shields poured in 19 points in his last Big Ten game.


Saturday’s Games:

#8 Michigan vs #4 Purdue – 1pm EST (CBS)

#2 Michigan State vs #3 Maryland – 3:30pm (CBS)

The Ten Biggest Storylines Heading Into The Big Ten Tournament

Originally when I first received my credentials for the Big Ten Tournament, I thought my access was going to be restricted to just the team I cover (being the Indiana Hoosiers). However, after learning that I have access to all 13 games, I decided I may as well cover the tournament as a whole.

For the next five days I will be publishing daily recaps of the day’s events and I will also live-tweet all 13 games. You can follow me on Twitter @QTipsForSports for all the fun.

So before the fun begins, let’s take a quick look at the ten biggest storylines heading into the Big Ten Tournament:

  1. Michigan State Tries To Earn A 1-Seed: During a season of chaos and upsets, Tom Izzo’s squad is as close to a championship contender as any other team in the country. Yet despite having a winning record against the RPI top 25 and 11 wins overall against RPI top 100 teams, the Spartans are far from a lock as a 1-seed. That’s because not only did Michigan State not win the Big Ten, but finished two games behind champion Indiana. A conference championship is really the only thing missing from the resume and the Spartans can still claim the conference tournament championship this week, which should satisfy that last requirement for a 1-seed. Now it’s up to Izzo on whether or not grabbing a 1-seed is worth pursuing.
  2. Indiana Tries To Win Its First Big Ten Tournament: Even though the Hoosiers are tied for the most regular season Big Ten titles (22), did you know Indiana has never won a Big Ten Tournament? Granted the Big Ten was one of the last conferences to adopt a postseason tournament ( the first one being in 1998), but it’s still hard to believe the Hoosiers have yet to win one especially since roughly half of them have been in Indianapolis, which is practically a second home for the Hoosiers. After a 15-3 record against the conference this year, you’d think this would be the year they’d have the best chance to get their first.
  3. Does A Big Ten Regular Season And Tournament Championship Earn Indiana A 1/2-Seed?: Indiana might also need to win the Big Ten Tournament to grab a 1 or 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament, which in itself is pretty incredible when you realize this team was very much on the bubble at the beginning of February. Four more wins against the RPI top 50 later and the Hoosiers are almost a lock for a top-4 seed. How Tom Crean’s group does this weekend will determine if they move up even more before Selection Sunday.
  4. Can Either Maryland Or Iowa End Its Late-Season Slump?: While Indiana has seen its stock rise, both Maryland and Iowa have seen its stock plummet over the last few weeks. The Terrapins have lost four of their last six games while the Hawkeyes have lost five of their last seven games. Both have shown to be very talented teams capable of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, but that would likely require them to play well in the Big Ten Tournament to turn momentum in their favor. If either lose right away in Indianapolis, you’d be smart to avoid picking them when filling out your March Madness brackets.
  5. Ohio State And Michigan Both Need Multiple Wins To Help NCAA Chances: Even though Iowa and Maryland have struggled down the stretch, both are locks for the NCAA Tournament. That is not the case for Ohio State and Michigan. The Buckeyes have gone 4-4 in their last eight games while the Wolverines have gone 3-5 in their last eight games. In addition to not finishing the season strong, both have just three wins against the RPI top 100 and a ton of losses (Ohio State has nine vs RPI top 100 while Michigan has 11 vs RPI top 100). With the pool for the at-large bids getting crowded with all of the mid-major conference leaders who lost in their postseason tournaments, the Buckeyes and Wolverines will need to win multiple games during the Big Ten Tournament just to stay on the bubble come Selection Sunday.
  6. Will A Double-Digit Seed Win Multiple Games?: Upsets have been the norm in college basketball this season and some of the more surprising ones have happened in the Big Ten. Penn State has wins over both Iowa and Indiana, Illinois has a win over Purdue, Nebraska has a win over Michigan State, and Minnesota has a win over Maryland. All four of those teams are double-digit seeds and would have to beat teams of similar caliber to win multiple games this week. They’ve all done it before so it’s not out of the question it could happen again.
  7. How Will Wisconsin Respond To Starting The Big Ten Tournament A Day Earlier Than Usual?: Even though Greg Gard didn’t lead Wisconsin to yet another top four finish in the Big Ten, he’s done a great job taking over for Bo Ryan and deserves to be named the permanent head coach. That being said, after years of having off until Friday, how will the team react having to win one extra game? Will the fans remember to come root for their team on Thursday or will they forget out of habit? All joking aside, if the Badgers get to at least the semifinals  they might move up to a 6-seed, which is incredible for a team that had home losses to Western Illinois and Milwaukee to begin the season.
  8. Potential Indiana-Purdue Rematch In Indianapolis: There are plenty of great potential matchups in this year’s Big Ten Tournament, but when considering the location of the tournament (Indianapolis) and the likeliness of the matchup (both teams only need to win one game), an Indiana-Purdue rematch becomes the most intriguing. Due to unbalanced schedules caused by league expansion, the in-state rivals are no longer guaranteed to play each other twice a season. Recently both programs haven’t been good at the same time so the lack of a home-and-home likely prevented one team from sweeping the other. That wasn’t the case this year as both are ranked in the AP top 25 and are real threats in the NCAA Tournament which made the fact that they only played once this season a shame. That could be corrected if both win their quarterfinals matchups on Friday.
  9. Which Coaches Are Under Pressure To Perform Well?: Even though only one coach has a realistic chance of being fired after this season (that being Rutgers’ Eddie Jordan), there are still many coaches who will feel the pressure to perform at the Big Ten Tournament this weekend for varying reasons. Richard Pitino of Minnesota has been given a pass for this season, but after the recent suspensions and the loss to Rutgers, there’s definitely some pressure to end the season on a positive note. John Groce was just given a vote of confidence that he will return to coach Illinois next year but if the Illini get destroyed by Minnesota on Wednesday it may make his margin for error even less come next season. Missing the NCAA Tournament won’t put coaches like Thad Matta (Ohio State) and John Beilein (Michigan) on the hot seat but both would like to avoid any unnecessary pressure going forward. Lastly both Fran McCaffery (Iowa) and Mark Turgeon (Maryland) carry the burden of high expectations and with both teams stumbling towards the finish line, you can bet both want to avoid being considered underachievers with their talented squads.
  10. With The Final On Sunday, Could A Team Realistically Win And Cause An NCAA Selection Shakeup?: Did you know that in the history of the Big Ten Tournament, an eighth, ninth, 10th, and 11th seed have all made the championship game? With the Big Ten so top-heavy this year, if an eighth thru 11th seed made the Big Ten title game that would have huge ramifications for the NCAA Selection Committee. While the committee would probably place the eighth seed (who is Michigan) into the bracket regardless of outcome, ninth thru 11th (Northwestern, Penn State, and Nebraska) are nowhere close to being at-large teams and would cause the selection committee to make two vastly different versions of the final bracket in the case of one of those teams winning the Big Ten Tournament. Of course this is true of any year, but considering what has already happened this season, this possibility should not be ignored.