Posting 55 first-half points, the most against any conference team this season, the Spartans showed that this league can have provide high scoring games that are played at an up tempo pace.
The Spartans were no doubt supposed to cruise in their first conference tournament game, but how they did it should alleviate some of the concerns fans had following the loss of guard Branden Dawson.
“What impressed me today was our passing, and our unselfishness,” Spartans head coach Tom Izzo said after the game. “We gotta lot of work to do defensively, but offensively I thought we moved the ball pretty well.”
Shooting 58.2 percent from the floor, the Spartans offense showed a nice balance of transition three-pointers and half-court post work, taking advantage of the Hawkeyes missed shots and poor transition defense.
When the situation called for it, the Spartans went down low, as the three-headed monster of Draymond Green, Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix combined for 46 points on 18-29 shooting. Payne was a near perfect 7-8 from the floor, finishing with a career high 16 points.
Without Dawson it’s become imperative that Nix and Payne contribute at both ends of the court, and Tom Izzo is now getting more reliable and consistent production from all of his big men. Nix and Payne have clearly shown the ability to play at a high level, but spotty production this season has prevented fans and media from thinking this is the complete team needed to make a Final Four run.
Showing great athleticism and touch around the basket, Payne was downright dangerous this afternoon. The latter can be said about Nix, who has a great baseline spinmove, but appears to be battling stamina issues that are inhibiting his production as the game wears on.
The Spartans will face the winner of today’s Indiana-Wisconsin game in the tournament semifinals.
If they can control the tempo tomorrow, they’ll likely move on to the championship game.