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December 10, 2011

Green scores career high in road win over Zags

Draymond Green scored a career-high 34 points to help Michigan State upset No. 23/22 Gonzaga 74-67 on Saturday night.

The Spartans became just the seventh team to defeat the Bulldogs on their home court since the 6,000 seat McCarthey Center opened in 2004. Gonzaga is 92-7 all-time at the McCarthey Center.

"It was a big win for us," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo afterward. "I thought we had a lot of guys that played well and we made our mistakes. We had our moments when we looked dysfunctional, but I think all in all it was a tough place to play and I have to give Gonzaga a lot of credit. This was Fourth of July, Christmas, and I think you add Easter into this one. It was a game we needed. I think you build character when you can win on somebody else's home court and it was a big win for us."

Michigan State played with poise in a tough environment.

"We never let it get out of hand," Izzo said. "They had a five-point lead (in the first half and then we battled back. We would do what we were supposed to do. We didn't keep the crowd out of it, but in the middle of the first half we went on a run. In the second half we went on a run and we would get that thing to six or eight, but we couldn't blow it open. But that is because they are a good team too, they are the No. 23 team in the country."

Green has already scored more than 1,000 points during his Spartan career, and the senior captain has had several outstanding individual performances during his time at Michigan State. But the leader of the Spartans has seldom played with the efficiency he did against Gonzaga.

"I thought Draymond played about the most under control game I've seen him play," Izzo said. "We ran stuff for him, they took him away early. He did a heck of a job playing within himself. He took maybe the least amount of shots he has taken all year, but they were the most efficient and I am really proud of Draymond."

Gonzaga coach Mark Few was impressed with the performance of Michigan State's senior captain.

"Draymond Green was brilliant tonight," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "If you double him, he can pass out of it. He's just a really, really special college player. He does everything well."

Green was 11-of-13 from the floor, including 4-of-5 from beyond the arc. The Spartan captain was 8-of-9 at the free-throw line.

Sophomore Adreian Payne had nine points for Michigan State (8-2), and Derrick Nix and Keith Appling added eight apiece. The versatile Green scored from all over the floor against a variety of Gonzaga defenders trying to stop him.

David Stockton had a career best with 19 points to lead Gonzaga (5-2). Robert Sacre had 16 points and freshman Gary Bell Jr. added 13. This was Gonzaga's second consecutive loss to a Big Ten opponent. The Bulldogs lost to No. 24 Illinois 82-75.

Michigan State limited Gonzaga's interior tandem of Elias Harris and Robert Sacre to a combined 6-of-17 shooting and 22 points.

Harris was 2-of-11 for the floor. The 6-foot-7 junior failed to reach double figures in scoring against the Spartans for just the second time this season. Harris came into the game off off a season-high 19 points in a road loss at Illinois. Sacre scored a quiet 16 points against the Spartans. The Gonzaga star was held to a season-low six shot attempts against the Spartans. The talented senior was 8-of-9 from the free-throw line.

Michigan State's front line of Green, Payne, and Nix by contrast accounted for 52 of their team's 74 points.

Appling led the way in shutting down freshman standout Kevin Pangos, who was held to a season-low seven points on 3-of-8 shooting.

"Holding that guard that they have who has been so good I thought was a big key," said Izzo, "and we really did a pretty good job on Sacre other than letting him get to the line nine times."

Michigan State has three more non-conference games between now and its Big Ten opener at home against Indiana on December 28.

"We've got a lot to coach, a lot to work on, a lot to get better at," Izzo said. "We are still a work in progress, but we are making progress and that is the name of the game."

Izzo received valuable minutes of the bench in the first half from true freshman Brandan Kearney and red-shirt freshman Alex Gauna. Both players made big shots for the Spartans.

"Alex played okay," Izzo said "Kearney is a guy that I think can play some defense. I have been more impressed with him, just like I thought I would. I gave some other guys a chance like you are supposed to do. Some have risen up, some have not. We played Kearney and give that kid credit, he's played on the scout team and it has helped him. Instead of moaning about it, he has gotten better and I am really proud of BK."

Kearney made his first appearance four minutes into the opening half. The former Detroit Southeastern star began his day with a steal that helped set up a 3-pointer by Travis Trice, which brought Michigan State within two points of Gonzaga. Kearney then buried his lone shot attempt to give the Spartans a 14-12 lead with 12:38 remaining in the opening half.

Gauna's jumper gave Michigan State a 27-24 lead with 3:49 remaining in the first half.

The victory is Michigan State's eighth in a row after back-to-back losses to No. 4 North Carolina and No. 7 Duke.

"We are improving," Izzo said. "We are running our stuff a little bit sharper, we are making some plays, we didn't rebound as well tonight, but give them credit for that. I thought they did a heck of a job on the boards and I thought we did a great job defensively inside."

Former Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote was one of the 6,000 fans in attendance. Heathcote won a national title with the Magic Johnson-led Spartans in 1979. Heathcote retired to Spokane and is a Gonzaga men's basketball season-ticket holder.

Heathcote received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd prior to the game, with Gonzaga coach Mark Few and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo presenting him with an autographed basketball.

"That (ovation) was awesome," Izzo said. "That brought tears to my eyes. He's been such a good guy and he's so important to me."

In the last meeting between the two schools in 2009, Sacre and Harris each scored 17 points in a 75-71 Gonzaga loss at the Breslin Center in 2009.

Michigan State last played in Spokane during the 2010 NCAA tournament, when they defeated New Mexico State 85-83 at the Spokane Arena.

"I love Spokane," said the versatile Green, who scored from all over the floor against a variety of defenders. "We've had tremendous success here. I guess Jud (Heathcote) brings the luck."


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