Thursday, March 5, 2015

"There will be blood"...

...would be the name of last night's Michigan State/Purdue basketball game, if one had to give it a movie title. Both teams played hard and dished out plenty of pokes, prods, elbows, (unintentional) feet to the head, and (unintentional) hands to the face. In one of the game's scarier moments, Purdue's Dakota Mathias had his face accidentally stepped on by Branden Dawson, after Mathias fell over after draining a three-pointer hotly contested by Dawson. Dawson stumbled over Mathias and unintentionally planted his foot on Mathias' noggin. Later in the half, Dawson took a blow to the head and left for the remainder of the game. Other injuries were sustained by Denzel Valentine (tripping over one of his teammates battling for a rebound) and Lourawls Nairn hobbled by what appeared to be cramps. Travis Trice took a nasty spill after a hard (but completely legal) Purdue foul. Blood was visible through one of Trice's white compression socks/leggings.

Blood was shed and pain inflicted on both sides. In other words, a typical late season Big Ten game between two teams with plenty to play for.

It's been pretty well established this season that this MSU basketball team has its faults. But one thing that can never be questioned is its heart. This was a game that the Spartans had to have, and despite losing Branden Dawson, and physical punishment delivered to Valentine and Trice; despite falling behind by nine points late in the first half; and despite more free-throw shooting woes (though not down the stretch when it mattered the most), the Spartans came through against a determined Purdue team that had been on a roll heading into East Lansing. In the process, the Spartans may have finally stamped their tickets to an 18th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

There is also plenty of pride in this program. It's obvious that this year's edition of Michigan State basketball does not want to be the first since 1997 to miss the NCAA tournament. They know the stakes involved in being a part of a program such as MSU's, and those who stick around are the ones who embrace those stakes.

Fans can be disappointed and frustrated by the struggles that this team has had this season, but it really shouldn't have been too much of a surprise when one considers how much was lost after last season in terms of personnel.  But after the grit that MSU displayed in last night's Purdue game, nobody should ever question the level to which these players want to win.

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