With the third seed in the Big Ten tournament up for grabs, the Michigan State Spartans and the Maryland Terrapins went to war. After 20 minutes neither team led by more than four points. Going into the half, the 28-27 Michigan State led contest saw 12 lead changes. The second half didn’t disappoint. They continued to exchange blows as each team orchestrated momentum swinging 7-0 runs. Overall the seesaw affair showcased 10 ties and 19 leads changes.
The final lead change proved to be the most devastating.
With less than 30 seconds remaining, Michigan State exited their timeout with possession in a 60-60 tie. After forward Nick Ward bobbled an open layup attempt with the shot clock expiring, the ball belonged to the Terrapins.
Working as the inbounder, Melo Trimble passed to Justin Jackson who immediately kicked it back to the star Guard. With 6.4 seconds remaining, Trimble raced the ball up the floor, squared up from deep and turned the lights out on the Spartans. The three-pointer erupted the frenzied Gary Williams Court crowd.
Michigan State, left with 1.1 seconds and a prayer, attempted their best Northwestern impression. An inbound pass the length of the court to Miles Bridges gave them a shot to tie, but the freshman forward couldn’t convert.
The victory assured Maryland the third seed in the Big Ten Tournament, while Michigan State dropped to fifth and lost possession of their coveted double-bye.
What We Learned:
1. Michigan State Needs a Third Option
Miles Bridges and Nick Ward are terrific offensively, but when Eron Harris went down the Spartans lost some punch. Averaging 10.4 points a game, several players have attempted to fill the scoring void left by his absence. Joshua Langford, Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid and Alvin Ellis III have all scored in double figures since the Harris injury. All four failed to do that in the loss to Maryland.
For the Spartans to make a run in the tourney, one of these players will need to step up with some consistency. With the three-point scoring and ability to run in transition, the money should be on freshman Langford. As Bridges works inside or out and Ward controls the paint, Langford and his near 42% shooting from three can effectively space the floor.
2. The Spartan and Terrapin Futures are Bright
Michigan State and Maryland are two teams that have been defined by the play of their freshmen. As some programs falter due to their youth, the Spartans and Terrapins are both poised to make the NCAA Tournament as at large bids.
Maryland has been forced to employ three freshmen for big minutes, and all three have responded. Forward Justin Jackson has led the charge for the trio averaging 10.5 points, good for second best on the team. Jackson also hits the glass, averaging 6.2 rebounds a game, and exhibits a lethal shot from deep at 44%. Guard Anthony Cowen averages double figure scoring as well. At 10.4 points a game, Cowen has excelled as Trimble’s backcourt running mate. Forward Kevin Huerter exemplifies a balance in skill set. He often fits in with whatever adjustments the Maryland offense makes to exploit opposing defenses, while also stretching the floor with a killer outside jumper.
Outside of the stunning play of Miles Bridges and Nick Ward, the Spartans also trot out two dynamic freshmen. Langford spaces the floor with his three-point ability and runs the floor well in transition. Point guard Cassius Winston plays part of floor general, leading the team with 5.4 assists.
While Bridges may or may not be in the NBA next year, these two teams should return each of these freshmen and will compete at a high level for Big Ten titles in the years to come.
3. Michigan State and Maryland will be Dangerous NCAA Tournament Teams
For three years now Mel Trimble has displayed the ability to take over games. His game winning shot against Michigan State was just another clip in the Trimble clutch highlight reel. While not always consistent, the junior possesses the skills and mind set to catch fire and come up big in huge moments. On the national stage the NCAA Tournament poses, Trimble will be put in the spotlight.
Coupling Trimble with the lights out shooting of freshmen wings Jackson and Huerter could prove to be destructive to opponents in the big dance. If they all get hot, scoring runs will come in bunches.
For Michigan State, look no further than their legendary coach. While the Spartans can disappoint, (see last year) Tom Izzo typically has his squad prepared for the Tournament.
This season bears a striking resemblance to the 2014-15 campaign. After a 23-11 record and a fourth-place finish in the regular season, the Spartans played Cinderella and advanced to the Final Four.
With the big play potential of Bridges and Ward, paired with a little potential momentum built in the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan State could surprise some teams.
Michigan State and Maryland proved to be evenly matched and fought each other hard. At this point, for the two to meet again in the Big Ten Tournament it would have to occur in the finals. Whether that happens or not, both teams are set to receive an at large bid for the NCAA Tournament. Few teams in the field will want to encounter the Spartans or Terrapins.