BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP)—Draymond Green brought the inside power. Kalin Lucas made all the big shots.
Together, Michigan State’s tag-team tandem looked like a knockout combination.
Green finished with 14 points Tuesday night, Lucas scored 13 and No. 11 Michigan State pulled away late for a 72-58 victory over Indiana.
“We thought we could go inside a little bit,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “But we had Raymar (Morgan) in foul trouble, we had a lot of guys in foul trouble and that’s when Kalin just subtlely began to take over.”
Lucas’ performance couldn’t have come at a better time for the Spartans (21-6, 11-3). They’ve won two straight since getting the guard back in the starting lineup and now hold a one-half game lead over No. 9 Ohio State in the Big Ten race. The Buckeyes host No. 4 Purdue on Wednesday.
Lucas is beginning to play like the conference’s reigning player of the year.
He was 6 of 11 from the field, had four assists and executed the Spartans’ offense flawlessly when they needed it most.
“Every time we thought we were going to cut it, Kalin would come back with a big shot,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean, a former assistant to Izzo.
Frustrating to the Hoosiers, familiar to the Spartans.
Michigan State reverted to its old form Tuesday by outscoring Indiana 40-18 in the paint, producing 23 points off turnovers, putting four players in double figures and limiting the Hoosiers to 34.9 percent shooting. Michigan State used a similar strategy to reach last year’s national championship game, and to start the conference season with nine straight wins. Then Lucas sprained his right ankle and Michigan State lost three straight.
Now, Lucas is playing like himself. Players like Green and Chris Allen are starting to make a bigger impact, too. Allen finished with 10 points and followed Lucas’ only 3-pointer of the game with one of his own to give the Spartans a 66-49 lead with 6:09 to go.
Green impressed, too. He made all five of his shots, was 4 of 6 from the free-throw line and had four rebounds and three assists in just 19 minutes.
“Dray is making some progress but we’re not naming any buildings after him yet,” Izzo said.
For Indiana, the problems are obvious.
Though Verdell Jones had 20 points and Christian Watford had 14 for the Hoosiers (9-16, 3-10), nobody else scored more than six. Indiana has lost seven straight, the last four by a combined 76 points, and Crean has lost all three games in the head-to-head matchup with his former boss.
Yet Crean finally saw some progress.
The Hoosiers hung around for more than 30 minutes, a stretch that included a 13:14 span during which Indiana didn’t have a field goal. But the Hoosiers slowed the pace by driving to the basket and repeatedly drawing fouls. The result: Indiana was 13 of 14 from the free-throw line in the first half and 25 of 28 for the game, keeping them in the game despite their shooting problems.
“We played very hard, I mean we competed,” Crean said. “That’s what it’s about. They have a lot of spirit and toughness inside of them and they brought it. They practiced that way.”
Still, things were ugly.
With 43 combined fouls, there was an uneven tempo.
The two teams combined for 24 fouls, 24 free throw attempts and 24 field goals in the first half, when Michigan State’s 9-2 closing flurry finally gave it a 40-30 lead.
Things didn’t change much in the second half.
Indiana went almost the first 3 minutes without a basket, finally ending the drought when Jones followed his own miss by putting in a layup. And the Hoosiers still trailed 58-48 with 7:55 left.
Then Lucas took over. He hit a 15-footer and then a 3. Allen followed with another 3 and suddenly the Spartans led 66-49.
“What I’ve been doing is watching more film and just taking my time out here,” Lucas said. “I’m playing good. I’m seeing the floor a lot better. I’m not going just super fast, I’m picking my times to go fast, my times to slow it down, and I’m getting time to read plays and read situations.”