The Michigan State Spartans beat the Texas Longhorns, 65-56. Senior center Derrick Nix scored 25 points and pulled down 11 rebounds, leading Tom Izzo's squad to victory over the visiting Horns. After falling behind early, the Spartan defense tightened up in the second half.
The key stretch of the game turned out to be midway through the second half. With 14:21 seconds remaining, Javan Felix hit two free throws to set the score at 41-40 in Michigan State's favor. Over the next three minutes, the Spartans scored eight straight points, going ahead 49-40. Several tough shots by Julien Lewis briefly tightened things up, but the Spartan defense and free throw shooting was enough to keep the game just out of the Longhorn's reach.
Julien Lewis played well, scoring 16 points on 6-12 shooting. The Michigan State defense forced Lewis to earn his points, which Lewis did, knocking down several highly contested shots in the second half.
Derrick Nix was just too much for the Texas big men. The latest in a long line of powerful Spartan centers, Nix was tremendously effective scoring the ball in the low post, beating Ridley, Lammert, and Holmes with his left hand seemingly whenever he wanted. Nix was 7-10 from the floor, and 11-13 from the free throw line, and was the meanest man in the gym. He was also successful at putting fouls on the Texas big men. Jonathan Holmes eventually fouled out, while Cameron Ridley and Connor Lammert both picked up four fouls. Ridley spent large stretches of the second half on the bench with foul trouble. Some credit is due to Prince Ibeh, who actually held his own against Nix during a few second half possessions. Ibeh is eventually going to be a force on defense; for now he is still inconsistent.
Texas played a good first half, and was helped out by some pointless Michigan State fouls. Sheldon McClellan finished the first half of the game scoring six straight points at the foul line, with the fouls coming away from the ball in non-shooting situations. But the easy chances stopped coming in the second half, and the Texas offense struggled to deal with the switching tactics of the Michigan State half-court defense.
Road wins in the Breslin Center don't come often. Last season, only Ohio State was able to win in East Lansing, and the Spartans are undefeated at home so far this year. Frankly, the Longhorns were going to have a hard time winning today without some help from the home team -- help they got in the first half in the form of silly fouls -- but Michigan State was just too good in the second half to lose to a Texas team that is still finding its way on offense.
We will likely hear a lot more from Michigan State before this year is over. The Big Ten is highly competitive, but the Spartans will surely be in the mix. And come tournament time, you know they will be ready to play.
The Texas Longhorns now break for the holidays, before picking up again a week from now, with a home game against Rice.