Turns out the Spartans still are a bit green, as would be expected at this early point of the season.
(Also, it turns out Lehigh is really good … don’t forget that name when you fill out your NCAA Tournament brackets in March.)
Lehigh punched back over and over, mostly behind big shots from Holden Greiner, but the Spartans withstood the physicality of a mid-major team you don’t see much. Mixed in with the usual mid-major combination of hustle, quick guard play and solid three-point shooting, the Mountain Hawks’ physicality was a true test for the Spartans.
“They were a lot tougher of a team than I expected,” MSU sophomore guard Keith Appling said of Lehigh. “For a mid-major team I kind of expected them to come in and lay down but they were the total opposite. They fought to the very end and they made it as tough as they possibly could for us.”
And by making it so tough from start to finish, Lehigh proved the perfect matchup for the Spartans as they head into Big Ten play.
Keith Appling was dynamic for 37 minutes of play, scoring 19 and playing phenomenal defense on C.J. McCollum — who finished with 19 points of his own, but on 6-of-18 shooting. Appling’s field-goal shooting performance left something to be desired, but so did many of the Spartans and especially in the first half.
Apart from a 4-of-5 performance from Branden Dawson in the first half, the team shot 8-for-30 and many of the misses were absolute gimme shots.
With an incredible number of offensive rebounds, the Spartans could not buy an easy basket in the first half, as they missed 13 layups and dunks. While the lack of conversion on simple attempts was bad, the rebounding edge returned on both ends. In fact, the edge was so great on the offensive end, Michigan State pulled down more rebounds (22) off its missed shots than Lehigh did (20).
Also, with a big thanks to the whistle-happy refs, Michigan State shot 39 free throws, and hit 32 of them (after hitting only 11-of-22 against UMKC).
Those two improvements were most important for a team that hosts No. 17 Indiana at Breslin Center on Wednesday.
Here is Tom Izzo’s postgame interview:
— Alex Gauna showed a good nose for the ball and a bit more smarts with it as well. I really hope he figures things out on the defensive end, because he is a really good talent.
— Four players totaled double-digit points: Appling with 19, Dawson with 14, Draymond Green with 16 and Austin Thornton with 11.
— Dawson’s offensive efficiency is through the roof. He rarely — if ever — takes bad shots and often gets good looks off athletic offensive rebounds.
— Green’s self-imposed benching was an outstanding move of leadership and a demonstration for the younger players of what a leader looks like in dedication and in expectations of self.
— Brandan Kearney saw only three minutes of playing time, and Russell Byrd did not play. That might be a good indication of the way Izzo is leaning with his rotation moving forward. It also could be nothing more than playing the matchup with an athletic Lehigh team.