January 26, 2012

DayDay not afraid to talk national championship

EAST LANSING - On a night in which Tom Izzo won No. 400 and Draymond Green had one of the best games of his career, Green felt even better about some long-term steps that Michigan State took during the 68-52 victory over Minnesota, Wednesday night at Breslin Center.

"We got better as a team tonight," Green said. "We took a step tonight. We got better as a team. Minnesota was one of the hottest teams in the league, coming in here. We got a couple of leads and kind of let it slip back down to 5 points, but we took a few steps. We got some guys playing better and harder."

Among them:

  • Adreian Payne played with more energy. This put him in position to contribute more offensively, and he capitalized.

  • Branden Dawson was a difference-maker for a second straight game.

  • Keith Appling barked at some teammates to do things better.

    Green on those three items:

    * "A.P. played harder," Green said. "A.P. and Derrick Nix gave us a lot inside. That was big for us. They were great. They really set the tempo at the beginning of the game. Our guards didn't really shoot well at the beginning and for those guys to do what they were doing inside really opened some things up, and they changed the game by getting (Ralph) Sampson in foul trouble.

    "Nix has been playing really good lately, but that was big for A.P. to come out and get two or three quick baskets."

    On MSU's first possession, Green was tied up with a Gopher and couldn't grab an offensive rebound on the Spartans' first shot of the night. So Green tipped the rebound to Payne. Payne was in position and ready to score the put-back.

    Next possession: Payne went to work on the low block against Sampson. He saw that there was no double-team. He offered two shuffle dribbles to the inside, then pivoted and scored on a beautiful turn-around jumper to the baseline.

    "Payne and Nix really set the tempo in there," Green said. "It shows that we are not a one-dimensional team. If some of our shots aren't falling in one area, we can do other things."

    Izzo made it a high priority this week to get Payne playing with more energy. MSU's starting center responded.

    Example: Payne scored in transition to give MSU a 32-19 lead at the end of a play when it didn't look initially like there would be a fastbreak opportunity. But Payne ran, got to his spot, and things opened up as part of the secondary break.

    On this play, Green grabbed a defensive rebound and Payne took off, sprinting the middle lane.

    Appling pushed the ball in transition in a fastbreak situation that was merely a 3-on-3 at best. Payne's hustling spring enabled him to get deep low post position.

    When Appling's transition push was stopped, Payne was open. Appling flipped a Euro pass to Brandon Wood, who then delivered the ball down low to Payne. Payne scored on a jump hook, getting a reward for running the middle lane.

    Izzo said Nix and Payne were "maybe the stars" of the game.

    "Early, we went to Payne and he scored a couple," Izzo said. "Then Nix went in there and got some fouls on people; he did a great job. We just kept rotating those guys. Payne went up and got some rebounds that he hasn't (in past games)."

    Payne finished with 8 points and 5 rebounds in 24 minutes.

    Nix had 8 points and 3 rebounds in 17 minutes.

    * As for Dawson, "He is playing with a lot more intensity," Green said. "Now he is starting to scratch that surface of where he can go. As you scratch that surface, it's going to make you play harder and harder and that's good for us."

    Playing harder, and more team-sound on defense, enabled Dawson to log 27 minutes. That's the most playing time he has received in one game since the opening week against North Carolina and Duke.

    Dawson has now put together consecutive games of 14 and 16 points. He's scoring on the offensive glass, in the low block when MSU designs something for him down low, and also by cutting to the basket when the opponent leaves him undefended in order to double-team Green on the opposite block.

    It resulted in a super-efficient 7-of-10 from the field against Minnesota. He grabbed the rebound on one of those misses and put it back in.

    With MSU dominating the defensive glass, Izzo wanted more racehorse opportunities in transition. Izzo said he "challenged" Dawson to play better on defense and run the floor better in the second half.

    "I thought B.J. (Dawson) did an incredible job in the second half," Izzo said.

    Green wants more.

    "He had four rebounds and I'm still upset with him about that because I think he can get more," Green said. "But he had four blocked shots."

    * As for Appling, the sophomore point guard didn't shoot well. But his performance was a major net-positive, due to the fact that he grew as a leader.

    "Tonight he got mad at somebody because they didn't get into the play fast enough and he started snapping and I had to calm him down," Green said of Appling. "Most people would say, 'Hey he is getting frustrated on the court.' I liked what he did. I liked what I saw tonight about him getting on a few guys about getting into stuff faster because he is going to get pressure out there, and guy need to get into stuff faster and or him to be demonstrative and demand that, that is going to help the team more as he keeps on growing in that spot."

    Specifically, Appling barked at Payne for not getting to the correct place during a 1-4 set late in the first half. Payne admitted that playing harder is sometimes a matter of staying focused. Appling showed the first signs of making players be accountable to their weaknesses.

    Izzo loved it. So did Green.

    "That's what we have been trying to pull out of Keith, more and more," Green said. "At the beginning of the season if he saw something wrong he wouldn't say something. I feel he took a step in that category tonight. Everybody needs somebody to bring something out of them. It's constantly getting grabbed and pulled out of him and he is always doing a better job of it."


    As for Green, Izzo offered this huge statement:

    "I thought that was one of the better performances of a player has had here for me," Izzo said.

    Green was 9-of-11 from the field, including a variety pack of eight field goals from 18 feet and in, scoring with a turn-around jumper, a pretty baseline jumper off a reverse pivot, a diagonal drive through the lane, a put-back, and a two-hand jam off an Appling drive-and-dish.

    Then he finished the first half with a skillful 3-pointer at the buzzer from NBA range. With the clock at :01 and 6-foot-7 Rodney Williams crowding and contesting his shot window, Green created just enough room with a jab right and one dribble left.

    "His intelligence, his willingness to communicate, his willingness to talk, he has gotten so much better," Izzo said of Green. "I talked to Morris Peterson last night and I said, 'Draymond is taking steps like you did.' He is a special guy and is one of the best Spartans I've had."

    Big Words Fit This Team?

    Green had big words for teammates. Izzo had big words for Green.

    MSU is 17-4 and ranked No. 11 in the nation, but coaches and players are so focused on individual and team improvement.

    These guys get offended by losses, such as last week's 1-point loss at Michigan.

    When asked in the locker room after Wednesday night's game about his statement during a recent edition of "The Journey" on the Big Ten Network that he felt the Spartans had "unfinished business," Green explained himself.

    "Everybody kind of wrote us off this year as a team that wouldn't do much, but I know the expectations of this program every year and I don't want my senior year for people to look at it like we didn't meet expectations," Green said. "I refuse to be that guy."

    On that night, Green was talking specifically about Michigan. Green indicated that in-state retribution is just part of it.

    "I have some unfinished business with Michigan," Green said, "but we have one more game before that so we are still taking it one day at a time. Of course some of that was ... you just lost to Michigan, so you are going to say some things. But that is still sitting there in my head and it won't leave me."

    Green has played in two Final Fours. He's not afraid to say that goal, as well as the National Championship, is on his mind - despite the fact that no one had MSU in the preseason Top 25.

    "Definitely, I'm always thinking that every year," Green said. "Playing for Michigan State, that's what we expect, that's what we strive for and we are not going to take a year off from striving for that no matter what the situation is. But we are still going to try to take it one game at a time and first try to win the first championship that you can win and that's the Big Ten championship."

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