With 11 minutes remaining in the second half, Jonathan Holmes ripped the ball away from Branden Dawson, dribbled the length of the floor, and made a layup. It put Texas ahead 54-52 against the #5 ranked Michigan State Spartans. It looked like Rick Barnes' team was headed for another tight finish. They weren't.
Over the next four minutes, the the Spartans went on a 12-3 run, and put the game away. Michigan State center Adreian Payne led all scorers with 33 points. Showing a diverse portfolio of post moves, going 2-5 from three point range, and hitting 11-12 from the free throw line, Payne illustrated just why he is considered one of the best big men in the nation. And the Spartans needed a big game from Payne, as point guard Keith Appling was a non-factor.
In the first half of the game, Texas was able to get out in transition, frequently beating the excellent Spartan defense down the floor. Additionally, the Longhorns, particularly Cameron Ridley, were able to have success inside and on the offensive glass against a Michigan State team that seldom gives up second chance points and easy looks near the rim.
But in the second half, the Spartan defense tightened up. And then, with 11 minutes remaining, Tom Izzo's squad began to play nearly flawless basketball, scoring on 20 of their final 23 possessions. Unable to stop Michigan State, Texas' transition opportunities disappeared. Once the game slowed to a half-court tempo, there just was no way that Texas was going to be able to score enough against a set Spartan defense to keep pace with the MSU scoring outburst.
Some additional notes:
- Cameron Ridley played well on the offensive end, scoring 17 points, and hitting 7-10 from the free throw line. But on defense, he was just no match for Payne.
- Keith Appling did not have a strong game. Demarcus Holland did a nice job defensively, but perhaps more significantly Appling helped Texas by going 0-6 from three point range.
- Michigan State neutralized Texas on the boards. Through their first 11 games, the Longhorns have excelled on the glass. But expecting to beat the Spartans on the boards is not a reasonable expectation.
- In case you couldn't tell, this Michigan State team is really good; their recent minor struggles have as much to do with injuries as anything. With Harris and Trice back, they can survive a poor performance by Appling (as happened today) and still win.
- The Longhorns hit 75 percent from the free throw line. Respectable free throw shooting helped Texas stay in the game through the first 30 minutes.
- Isaiah Taylor had yet another solid game. He finished with 16 points and five assists, which is a good enough line to allow me to look past the four turnovers.
- Before you ask, I have no idea why Damarcus Croaker hardly played in the second half. He went 2-4 from three point range, and had a nice dunk after driving to the basket in the first half.
The Longhorns next play on December 30 against Rice.