I'm more likely to be in Michigan State's Breslin Center for high school basketball (state finals, a Christmas tournament or the "Izzo Shootout" team camp) than for the reason most of you know the gym. When it is a college game taken in, they often run towards the obscure, but with good reason. A few years ago the East Lansing trip was to see Brown, whose forward Scott Friske coached in our AAU program in the off-season. December I'll be there to see Lehigh and junior forward Holden Greiner -- who was coached by Friske in our AAU program. Friday's somewhat attraction was Texas Southern and it's Michigan-centric roster.
Texas Southern is the defending regular season champion from the lowest league beneath the Red Line. There was no mistaking this for the SWAC, with the statue of Earvin Johnson outside Breslin, the playing court the same one used by Michigan State in their 2000 national championship game and twice as many Final Four banners as Texas Southern has NCAA appearances. The Tigers came in 1-1, with a 20-point opening night loss at Baylor. Michigan State did 'em even worse. MSU craved a "get well" game after two high-profile losses over just five days against North Carolina on an aircraft carrier in San Diego then to Duke for Coach K's record-setting victory in Madison Square Garden. Playing sharply and aggressively in front of an eager Izzone, the Spartans beat up Texas Southern the entire way, welcoming their Spartan Invitational guest with a 76-41 loss.
Michigan State toyed with Texas Southern's zone, too often with middle school hoops 101, easy entries to the high post only to see open perimeter shooters pop open begging for the easy assist. On the other end the Tigers offered no post threat, so MSU was able to fearlessly blow up their high ball screens and crowd out Texas Southern's smaller shooters. Throwing up shots at any glimpse of daylight, Texas Southern didn't make a field goal for the first 5 minutes 30 seconds of the game and went into the half looking at a hopeless 32-12 deficit.
The disparity in the physical presence of the teams' frontcourts had a No. 1 vs. No. 16 seed feel. For MSU, 6-10 sophomore Adreian Payne played above the rim for a 10-10 effort, while freshman Branden Dawson looked like all you'd expect from a McDonald's All-American forward. No one on the court finished stronger and Dawson ended up the game's high scorer with 13 points on 6-of-7 shots in just 15 minutes.
Texas Southern coach Tony Harvey and three of his players are from Michigan, the cause of the small Tigers contingent or red behind their bench, amidst the Izzone sea (after which the civilian fans became sparser the higher you climbed up the next two levels towards the banner-heavy rafters of Breslin, which ended up maybe half-full for a season home opener with an unwieldy 6:30 pm tip; our tickets were from a friend who couldn't make it up in time from work in Detroit; it's a shorter shoot from my home base of Holland on the Lake Michigan shore to East Lansing thanks to the relatively new highway M6 which cuts south under Grand Rapids). The native sons have all seen better days.
Aaron Clayburn, a sophomore forward from Benton Harbor, started but missed all his shot. The last time I saw Clayburn playing on Michigan State's campus it was after his junior year at Benton Harbor, playing with his high school team at the Izzo Shootout. Economically beaten for decades, Benton Harbor is one of the state's most storied basketball towns. These Tigers have sent the likes of Chet Walker, Anthony Miller, Robert Whaley and Wilson Chandler on towards the NBA. The Benton Harbor teams from Clayburn days were just average squads, so as Izzo Shootout participants were less likely to find themselves playing on the big floor themselves or on MSU's swanky practice courts (usually reserved for top teams and those including State recruits) than they were to be across the street in sweaty, dark, ancient Jenison Fieldhouse, or down the road in upstairs intramural gyms.
Texas Southern's leading scorer on the young season is Lawrence Johnson-Danner, a sophomore guard from Melvindale Academy for Business & Technology. His laconic jumper didn't start to find the net until the game was already well out of hand. LJD led Texas Southern with 10 points. The third Michigander, freshman forward Patrick Onwenu, had played the past two Marches at the Breslin Center, where his Southfield HIgh School team played in the Class A state semifinals. He came off the bench to at least get in the book with a bucket.
Like Clayburn, Harvey is a Benton Harbor native. He started his coaching career in the SWAC as an assistant to Ben Jobe at Southern nearly two decades ago. He's come full circle back to the SWA. This is his fourth season as Texas Southern's head coach. In between, Harvey was an assistant coach at Missouri and, depending on whom you ask, either the bag man or fall guy in the Reggie Clemons fiasco that ultimately cost Quinn Snyder his college coaching career. After that Harvey tried his hand in the agent game before rejoining the college ranks in Houston. He led Texas Southern to an NIT appearance last March.
In his Missouri days, Harvey was considered one of the hottest assistants in the high-major ranks. Michigan State may now have one of those vogue names on their bench, minus the iffy recruiting rep. In an uncommon move, Dane Fife jumped the Red Line from a head job at IPFW, where he had started out as Division I's youngest coach and slowly forged the Mastodons into a competitive Summit League team, to an assistant's position in East Lansing. Also hopping over is Brandon Wood. He was Valparaiso's leading scorer in 2011, then graduated and enrolled at MSU for his final year of eligibility. He started this game but made only one shot. A single shot for which, for far too many stretches Friday evening, Texas Southern would have paid for handsomely.
at MICHIGAN STATE 76, TEXAS SOUTHERN 41 11/18/2011
TEXAS SOUTHERN 1-2 (0-0) -- L. Johnson-Danner 4-10 2-3 10; F. Sturdivant 4-11 0-2 10; O. Strong 3-10 3-4 12; D. Scott 0-1 1-4 1; D. Ellington 1-7 1-2 4; D. Joyner 1-2 0-1 2; D. King 0-1 0-0 0; A. Clayborn 0-6 0-0 0; P. Onwenu 1-2 0-0 2; T. Price 0-1 0-0 0; M. Gibbs 0-1 0-0 0; K. Denson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 14-52 7-16 41. MICHIGAN STATE 1-2 (0-0) -- K. Appling 2-6 0-0 6; D. Green 5-11 0-0 12; A. Payne 4-5 2-2 10; T. Trice 4-7 0-2 11; B. Wood 1-7 2-2 5; A. Thornton 0-1 0-0 0; B. Dawson 6-7 1-2 13; A. Gauna 3-6 0-1 6; R. Byrd 1-4 2-3 5; D. Nix 3-3 2-4 8; B. Kearney 0-2 0-0 0; A. Ianni 0-0 0-0 0; D. Chapman 0-3 0-0 0; K. Wetzel 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-62 9-16 76.
Three-point goals: TXSO 6-20 (L. Johnson-Danner 0-3; D. Ellington 1-4; F. Sturdivant 2-3; O. Strong 3-9; M. Gibbs 0-1), MSU 9-27 (A. Thornton 0-1; B. Wood 1-4; D. Green 2-3; K. Appling 2-6; R. Byrd 1-4; D. Chapman 0-2; B. Kearney 0-1; T. Trice 3-6); Rebounds: TXSO 26 (L. Johnson-Danner 5), MSU 49 (D. Green 11); Assists: TXSO 5 (L. Johnson-Danner 2), MSU 22 (D. Green 6); Total Fouls -- TXSO 17, MSU 18; Fouled Out: TXSO-None; MSU-None.