December 17, 2011
Beyond The Boxscore: Dawson, Wood coming around
EAST LANSING - Tom Izzo was willing to let his team slide with a sluggish first half, due to the way they responded to his challenges at halftime. No. 21-ranked Michigan State won its ninth straight game.
It is too early in the year for choke slams and fists through walls, but Izzo made it clear during intermission, with Michigan State leading 35-33, that it was time for this team to show some gumption.
"I think we showed a little character," Izzo said, "and that's what I asked for at halftime: 'We are going to get out and get after it better.'
"It was all energy that caused it."
The Spartans staged an 11-2 run in the opening 3:15 of the second half to take an 11-point lead. The lead fluctuated between 10 and 17 points the remainder of the game.
"It was all energy in the second half that caused it," Izzo said.
Senior captain Draymond Green liked what he saw from himself and his teammates in the second half.
"It was just: Let's see what your guys' character is," Green said. "Are you just going to lay down or you going to bounce back and have a better second half? I think guys came back and definitely played a lot harder."
Four Spartans were in double figures, including Brandon Wood with 16 and Derrick Nix with 14.
Branden Dawson bounced back from a dreary performance at Gonzaga with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, and four rebounds.
A week after a career-high 34 against Gonzaga, Draymond Green was extremely pass-oriented in the first half, and finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
Bowling Green fell to 5-5. The Falcons have notable wins over Temple, Detroit and Austin Peay this year. They have road losses at Georgia, Western Kentucky and Valparaiso.
The highlight of MSU's hot beginning to the second half came when Travis Trice chased down a Bowling Green fastbreak opportunity and blocked a lay-up attempt by Falcon guard Jordon Crawford at the rim, drawing an immediate rise from MSU fans.
Wood and Austin Thornton hustled to trail the play. Because of their hustle, Wood was in position to contest a put-back by Bowling Green's Scott Thomas, and Thornton was able to go high for a quality defensive rebound.
Thornton then executed an outlet pass, which led to Green's pass to Nix for a hefty dunk and a 50-38 lead.
"That definitely got some things going," Green said.
With Michigan State University on break, The Izzone was not in attendance.
"One thing we noticed is with The Izzone not here, you definitely have to get the crowd going more," Green said. "Even though there was a lot of support, there is nothing like a student section going crazy. We have to get off to a better start and get the crowd involved early."
What Really Happened
Izzo was concerned that the Spartans would be a step slow, coming out of finals week - which is often the case. He was right.
"If I had one complaint, it just seemed like - even at the end of the game - they (Bowling Green) got every loose ball," Izzo said. "That doesn't happen very often and it's something we'll have to work on tomorrow."
Izzo said his players had a heavy load of final exams on Friday.
But Green, who had an exam on Friday morning, said the late-week academic stress shouldn't be used an excuse. But was it a factor?
"Realistically, yes," he said, "but that's something you have to fight through. We are not the only team in the nation to go through that. Some teams have to travel and go through that.
"We still have to come out with more energy than what we did. I don't care if it is final exams, or coming home late after a long trip and only having a walk-through before a game, you have to play better than that from the jump."
Dawson did a better job of staying within himself, and creating opportunities with aggressive plays to the rim rather than trying to create offense from range.
He had a lay-up in transition while getting fouled. He had a giant rebound off a missed free throw, which he converted for another three-point play.
He also scored in the post on a play designed for him to go to work in the low block as a small forward.
"We got something out of Branden Dawson and that was critical," Izzo said. "He defended a lot better. He rebounded; he scored there. He ran the lane; he scored there."
Dawson was drilled earlier in the week in the art of playing trail-technique defense on BGSU's small forwards. He did a good job of anticipating downscreens and using fast feet to chase his man around the screen to the elbow area and shut off curl cuts.
"That's something I didn't have to do in high school because I was playing inside as a four or a five," Dawson said.
"It always takes freshmen and young guys a while to learn that," Green said, "because they're used to chasing it and trying to blow it up from inside-out rather than chasing it to the outside to avoid the screens. He was on it pretty good tonight."
Dawson getting complimented for defense away from the ball? That's definitely a sign of progress.
Everyone knew he had it in him. It just took some time for that particular light bulb to illuminate.
There are other areas of progress that are still needed, but Dawson - in this game - looked more like the immediate-impact McDonald's All-American that we saw in the opening minutes of the season opener against North Carolina.
"He was better defensively," Izzo said. "They (BGSU) run some things with those curls that are hard to defend.
"He for the most part ran the floor better. Not as good as the kid can. His potential is still untapped but at least we are starting to put a spike in it."
The Spartans' early-season problems with 3-point shooting is no longer an issue. Michigan State shot 45.5 percent from 3-point range (5-of-11 from deep). Wood was 3-of-5 from deep.
Wood got off to a strong start by making his first 3-pointer from the left corner, thanks an extra pass by Green. Green was open for a pick-and-pop, but Green passed it up to give it to Wood in the corner, who was even more open. This cut an early BGSU lead to 9-8.
Wood's final 3-pointer came on an inside-out pass from Dawson, who hustled to control a loose ball and then kicked it out to Wood.
! Wood's notched an old-fashioned 3-point play to make it 53-38 when he drove the right side for a running 12-footer off the glass while being fouled. He made the free throw.
Wood has turned in this type of play seemingly once per game, in which his old instincts and skill as a pure scorer come to the fore. He picks good spots to show that part of his game. He doesn't intrude on the proceedings to try to get his. His tact on knowing when to go into his bag of tricks has made his pure scoring ability a nice little weapon that MSU has benefited from, sometimes in unexpected fashion.
If he keeps doing it, it will become more expected.
Izzo knows Wood can score. He wanted to see better focus on defense on this night, in tracking players away from the ball, running through screens. Wood showed progress in this area.
+ In the first half, Trice knocked down a 3-pointer from the right wing after Izzo drew up a play to go directly to him during a time out.
+ Thornton also connected on a triple, making good on Izzo's continued assertions that the fifth-year senior shoots well in practice.
! Truthfully, this reporter has indeed witnessed improved shooting from Thornton in the weekly practices we've been allowed to attend. For those who have watched him closely in practice, there is no question that Thornton is a better shooter than he was a year ago, and now perhaps that improvement is starting to come to fruition on game day. He's still not a primary-option guy, but he has shown an increased ability to knock down open jumpers when opportunities come to him.
Izzo hasn't gone into details, but he indicated earlier in the week and again on Saturday that guards Keith Appling and Trice have had some "back-home" issues that they are wrestling with.
Appling battled foul trouble and had only 3 points and 2 assists in 21 minutes.
Trice had 3 points, 2 assists and 4 turnovers. Three of his turnovers came within a 3-minute span midway through the second half.
"I think there are a couple of reasons," Izzo said. "One they didn't play very well. And two they have both been through some tough things here. But both guys struggled."
Izzo doesn't expect those "tough things" to be long-term issues for the guards. Izzo seemed understanding, and did not criticize their play in the least.
Nix continues to call for the ball down low, and he continues to do damage with it.
He came off the bench to score 14, but it could have been more. He was 5-of-13 from the field, and missed a handful of shots from close range.
Nix does a superb job of getting position, and then executing high-level post moves to get good shots.
Good finishing touch has been among his strengths through the years, but he has seen a few more shots roll off the rim than usual this season.
When the touch comes back, Nix could be a 20-and-10 type of guy on any given night.
"I thought Nix had one of his best games," Izzo said. "If he had made just a couple of those lay-ups, it's a 20-something point night.
"I am seeing a better, a different Derrick Nix. He made some great moves."
Nix became angry an an official for not making a call, and had to be talked down by Green and then Izzo.
"Obviously, you could see he was about ready to lose his cool," Izzo said.
! The last time we said something like this about Nix, it was when he squandered several low post opportunities against Duke. At least in this game he converted 5 field goal attempts (thanks to a couple of dunks). But there is no question that he is getting more and more quality opportunities down low. As he gets them, his rate of finishing them should surely increase - as will his impact as a low post force in the Big Ten.
On Green collecting his 800th rebound and other stuff:
"That's quite an achievement for a guy his size. You are starting to see a completely different Draymond. He had his moments when he got his charge but he just comes out of it so much better.
"He did a nice job of passing when they doubled him. He did a nice job rebounding. He made some power moves that I thought were good.
"Maybe what I liked best is he is showing more and more and more leadership. I am feeling more comfortable with him. If he wanted to coach the team, I would probably turn it over to him."
Izzo: "It wasn't the best night, but in a lot of ways we did have some individual performances where some guys got better," Izzo said.
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