Michigan State dodged a bullet on Saturday.
Playing without Gary Harris and Matt Costello and playing with Keith Appling and Adreian Payne at less than 100%, the Spartans shook off a slow start to knock off Oakland, 67-63.
Branden Dawson, who may be the only person in East Lansing that isn’t dealing with some kind of nagging injury, led the way with 21 points, 13 boards, three assists, three blocks and two steals.
There really isn’t all that much more to say here. Michigan State is a team that thrives on toughness and effort and putting enough talent on the floor that all they need to do to win is to simply play harder. But when that talent is hampered with a high-ankle sprained or plantar fasciitis or a sprained wrist, it gets difficult. Think about it like this: four of Michigan State’s five starters were either sitting out or playing at well below 100%.
Oakland is better than their 2-9 record. They’ve played a ridiculous schedule, one that will make it really easy to overlook the fact that they have Travis Bader, Duke Mondy and Corey Petros on their roster. This performance was not as bad as it would look on paper, but a loss would have been a major ding on their tournament resume.
They avoided that. They got the win. And they got Gary Harris one step closer to being back to 100%.
I’m not sure just how much more you could have asked for.
The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.
The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.
They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.
That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.
So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.
Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:
With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.
At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes
“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:
“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”
“It’s all money.”
Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.
Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .
Want to talk about coaching luxuries?
Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.