Spartans Take Commanding 5-0 Record in the Big Ten with 73-63 Win Over Illinois!

January 16, 2009

Breslin Center

East Lansing, MI



I said in my MSU Basketball news and notes column this morning that Raymar has to be more consistent. I know, not earth shattering analysis at all, but accurate nonetheless. 


Raymar came in as the sixth man today and played in my opinion his best game. He was a spark plug offensively, defensively and emotionally on all facets of the game. He had a double double with fourteen points and ten rebounds. Izzo talked about his erratic star, “I don’t really like bringing him off the bench…His defense was really really good and we just have to get him playing that way every game.”


The Spartans came out emotionally on fire, but the Illini were more disciplined. Fans get frustrated when Izzo talks about the balance of emotion and discipline in the same breath, but early on Izzo’s mantra was evident. 


The Illini according to Izzo, “Out hustled” the Spartans, and they held their spots and played more under control and that is why the had the advantage in the first fifteen minutes.


The story of this game is how complete the Spartans played. 


Delvon Roe was magnificent (fifteen points and four boards) and Kalin Lucas led the Spartans in scoring with 20 points and four assists. “Lucas played at such a high level today,” was the praise Bruce Weber the Illini head coach gave him afterwards. He also made a highlight that will be played on the big screen twenty years from now when he comes back and visits. 


With 12:38 to go in the second half he drove to the basket, faked a back pass to Durrell Summers and made an amazing lay up. Watch Sportscenter tonight as it will have to be a top ten nominee. It not only got the Spartans the huge lead, it emotionally sunk the Illini.


It would be unfair to write about this game and not mention the crowd and compliment them. This was the second best crowd of the season, second only to the Gonzaga game. The lower bowl Izzone as amazing and even the proverbial mortuary quiet green seats rose and cheered.


At the 3:17 break in the 1st half the entire crowd rose to their feet to salute the Spartans and they thundered their approval like the mob at the coliseum in Rome for their gladiators. There was no doubt other than the final score from that point on.


The thing that a national television audience on CBS saw was that MSU is peaking. This team played one of their best all around games and did it in an impressive manner. Anyone watching this game, if they had any doubts about this team should have had them erased today. The Spartans made 80% of their free throws. That stat along with the turnovers are even more proof of how this team is improving.


This team today can make another final four. This team today can run away with the Big Ten title. This team today peaked. Can they sustain it? That is to be seen. There are still areas to improve on, but if you are a Big Ten team, or a potential NCAA tournament dance partner you can’t be excited to see the Spartans on your card.


I am asked all the time about what makes Izzo great. Here is a classic example. With 6:48 in the second half and his Spartans up 19, he was unimpressed with his teams defensive intensity and called out to guard Korie Lucious that it was Bull(crap) and called a time out in which he reamed his team.


It is that fire that sets Izzo apart. This team is responding. Every year I tell people that each team has to find it’s own identity. Other than Mateen’s senior season every single season somewhere during the year they find that identity.


This team has found theirs. Amazingly it is by going back to what they are. They are a team with enough talent to play you anyway, and a coach whose fire refuses to accept complacency.


Are they peaking to early? They could be, but today set the bar and it should be fun to watch. The Spartans move to 15-3 on the season and 5-0 in the Big Ten. There is a lot of season left, but the Spartans are on a roll and this season has the potential to be very special. Weber again praised the Spartans when he complimented them with, “Their best thing is I think they have eight starters,”


In a game that was full of MSU football players, coaches and recruits, there were numerous Spartan basketball stars from the past. Watching them all come back was awesome. There were to many to name them all, but one stood out. 


Travis Walton is back from overseas and currently staying with Tom Izzo as he looks for another team. When Walton played at MSU he was always one of the first to praise the Izzone. He didn’t do it once; he did it all the time. 


Today he went over and joined them for the second half and had a blast. I asked him about all his time here and what it was like from their vantage point, “It was an incredible experience. My whole four years this group showed me nothing but love. I was not going to not come join them. If you ask me they are as much a part of Spartan Basketball as any player including me. I love these guys.”