Drew Neitzel only had three points in the second half on Sunday afternoon against rival Michigan, but his 15 in the first half, combined with 18 from freshman Kalin Lucas, helped No. 10 Michigan State beat the Wolverines 77-62.
Neitzel sank a three-pointer two minutes into the second half and was finished scoring for the game, but he surely made his presence felt with his unselfish play.
Playing in his final regular season contest against the Wolverines (5-15, 1-7), the All-American dished out seven assists, four of which were big ones in the second half.
“They started playing me tighter in the second half and that opened up some slips for guys to get some easy dunks,” said Neitzel. “Whether it was Raymar (Morgan) or Marquise (Gray), and as a player as an upperclassmen that is my role.”
After struggling at the start of the Big Ten conference season, Neitzel has found his stroke, which means big things for Tom Izzo and the Spartans’ (18-2, 6-1) offense.
“When he’s shooting, that’s when those slips open up for the easy layups,” said Izzo. “…because it’s hard to guard on those plays that we ran, and I thought we had a couple of plays coming off timeouts that worked because they were really worried about Drew.”
Michigan coach John Beilein pointed to Neitzel’s quick release that allows him to do the other things well.
“As quick as his jump shot is, that’s how quick he sees the open man,” said John Beilein. “He is tough to guard because he plays so hard.”
“I actually showed our team clips on him (Neitzel), not as a scouting report, almost as an invitation of, ‘This is how hard you need to cut to get open and still share the ball,” Beilein added.
Unless the two meet in the Big Ten tournament, Neitzel’s final game against his rival was a strong one, and as he said after the game, it doesn’t matter what their record was, it was still sweet.
“They could be 0-20, but we still want to beat them as bad as we possibly can,” said Neitzel. “We didn’t want to win by five, we wanted to get a big win.”
“They are struggling but there are a lot of reasons why, they are really young, they have a new coach, but the experience they are getting, it’s only going to help them in the years to come,” said Neitzel.
MSU scored the first eight points of the game, while Michigan struggled from both the field and the free-throw to start.
The Wolverines finally got on the scoreboard on Epke Udoh’s rebound tip-in over six minutes into the game.
Despite their struggles, the Wolverines went on a 17-3 run to take the lead 19-14.
But Neitzel answered right back as he did for most of the day, sinking a three-pointer to tie the game at 19.
Neitzel’s three sparked a 19-3 MSU run, putting MSU up 35-22. The Spartans led 35-27 at half.
MSU began to pull away in the second half, opening with a 12-3 run and increasing their lead to 47-30.
Freshman Manny Harris came into the game leading the Wolverines in scoring, with 16.4 points per game. But his pre-game “trash” talking to his defensive counterpart, Travis Walton, really didn’t sit well with Walton.
“Travis took that a little personal, Manny is a young guy so he was talking a little bit before the game,” said Neitzel. “He (Walton) did a great job playing defense and that’s why Travis is in my opinion the best defender in the conference if not the nation.”
Making it even more of a personal challenge for Walton was the fact that Durrell Summers and Kalin Lucas both know Harris pretty well.
“I just wanted to make things tough for him (Harris),” said Walton. “It was kind of a challenge, I got two Detroit boys on my team and they played AAU basketball with him so they were talking trash the whole week so it was a personal challenge for me.”
Harris went 4-for-14 from the field and scored just 11 points on the day.
Kalin Lucas had another big game with his 18 points, proving to be a spark off the bench.
“Kalin is doing a great job, he is really picking up what coach Izzo wants from him, whether its penetration and kick, take the open shots,” said Neitzel. “His progression has helped us a lot, he’s really sparking us coming off the bench.”
With the win, the Spartans improve to 18-2, tying the 2000-2001 Spartans for the best 20-game start in school history.
MSU returns to the court on Wednesday as they host Illinois at the Breslin Center.