March 3, 2009

Spartans down Hoosiers, 64-59, win Big Ten title

Indiana gave No. 8 Michigan State all they could handle.

The Hoosiers trailed just two points for the final 5:16 of the second half, but could not overcome the Spartan lead despite multiple opportunities. Michigan State prevailed in the end, 64-59, winning the Big Ten Conference Championship for the first time outright since 1999.

The Spartans led from wire-to-wire, but were unable to pull away from the pesky Hoosiers. Indiana had the lead to one point on two separate occasions, but MSU continued to retain the lead. The half was capped off by a three-pointer by Michigan State's Kalin Lucas as the halftime horn sounded to give the Spartans a 34-27 halftime lead.

However, unlike other games, Indiana started out hot from the gate in the second half. The Hoosiers went on a 5-0 to start the half, but went cold soon after. Michigan State pushed their lead as high as 13 points in the second half. This time, though, it was the Indiana defense to step up.

The Hoosier 'D' held Michigan State to just three points for a nine-minute span in the second half. That defense allowed Indiana to creep back in the game with a 13-2 run and with 5:16 remaining in the game, IU's Nick Williams hit a three-pointer to cut the lead to 58-56.

After a Michigan State free throw, Indiana's Verdell Jones was fouled on two consecutive Indiana possessions. He hit 1-of-3, but grabbed the offensive rebound on both occasions. Twice, the Hoosiers had a shot to take the lead, but missed on both attempts.

The scored remained 59-57 on multiple possessions until Michigan State called a time-out with 46.7 seconds remaining. Tom Izzo set up a play that got guard Durrell Summers open in the corner for a three. He missed the shot, but Michigan State's Raymar Morgan dunked the ball to give Michigan state a 61-57 lead.

Matt Roth had his second straight chance for a clutch three-pointer late, but the ball rimmed out. The Spartans hit free throws down the stretch to cap the game, 64-59. The Spartans were led in scoring by Lucas, who notched 15 points. Morgan finished with 14.

Still, Indiana head coach Tom Crean was pleased with how the Hoosiers battled.

"I am very proud of the way we bounced back from Wednesday at Northwestern with out mindset," Crean said. "I think we played our best basketball today because our mindset was so right…They're learning, they're getting better. They are getting more confident."

Indiana had a balanced day scoring, with four members reaching double digits for the first time since November 26. Verdell Jones scored 15 points, with 11 of those coming in the first half. It was his sixth time in the last eight games he has led the Hoosiers in scoring. He also led the team in rebounds (five) and assists (four). Williams and Malik Story finished with 11 points each, while Roth added 10.

The win clinches the Big Ten Championship for Michigan State, who has not garnered the award outright since 1999. The Spartans are now 24-5 overall and 14-3 in the Big Ten.

The Hoosiers were without leading scorer Devan Dumes, who left the game just three minutes in following re-injuring right knee. He had three points prior to the injury and did not return. He is listed as day-to-day.

Brett Finkelmeier played more minutes today (17) than he had all season in Dumes' absence. He only scored two points, but played hard-nosed defense against sometimes much taller Spartan front linemen.

"He's earned his way in," Crean said. "He is a tough-minded guy and will get up into people, which I like."

The game also capped off Kyle Taber's final home game in Bloomington. He was the lone senior for the 2008-09 season and finished the game with three points and five rebounds. During his speech, he thanked the crowd for their continued support of the team this season.

"We are 6-23 now and we are playing in front of a packed house in the loudest place in the country," he said. "Only at Indiana."

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