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Posted at 9:46 PM ET, 03/11/2011

Big Ten tournament: Michigan State takes large step toward locking up at-large bid

By Steve Yanda

Everyone, Michigan State forward Draymond Green said, had been waiting to see when the Spartans finally would play a "great" game. Green said he'd been waiting to see the same thing, and he'd had a premonition that Friday's Big Ten tournament quarterfinals contest against Purdue would be that time.

For the second time in as many days, Green proved prophetic. Michigan State crushed Purdue, 74-56, in what was easily the Spartans most complete performance in months, if not the entire season. Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas, competing on a bum right ankle, scored 30 points in 35 minutes of action to lead the Spartans to a victory that may have secured them a spot in the Field of 68.

Green & Co. would prefer, though, to believe their collective backs remain up against the figurative wall. And so that's exactly what they'll try to do Saturday in their conference tournament semifinal matchup against either Wisconsin or Penn State.

"Everyone said Michigan won their way in with that game," Green said, referring to Michigan's 60-55 win over Illinois earlier on Friday. "Now people are saying we've won our way in. Coming into this game our focus was not winning our way into the tournament. Going into tomorrow our focus will not be, if people say we're in, our focus will not be to stay in the tournament. Our focus will be come out and take it one game at a time and do what we've been doing."

Friday marked one of the few times in recent months when the Spartans all appeared to be on the same page. Lucas paced Michigan State as it raced out to a 15-point lead in the first half. The Spartans shot 48.3 percent from the field, made 7 of 9 three-point attempts and outscored Purdue in fast break points, 9-2, before the break. Lucas had tallied 18 points by halftime.

In the second half, Michigan State controlled the contest by owning the boards. The Spartans ended the night possessing a 41-28 rebounding edge. Green recorded a game-high 13 rebounds. Forward Delvon Roe and swingman Durrell Summers each chipped in eight.

Green had said following Michigan State's 66-61 win over Iowa on Thursday that Purdue's JuJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore were going to get their points, but the key for the Spartans would be to limit the effectiveness of role players like D.J. Byrd, Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith.

Indeed, Johnson and Moore combined to score 38 points Friday. Byrd, Jackson and Smith combined to score 11.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo acknowledged afterward the effect that the sense of urgency March can bring has had on his team. He and his squad are starting to figure out how to use that mental strain to their advantage.

"I think it played into us, and I think it hurt us," Izzo said. "You know, since the middle of January - no, since the end of January when we lost a couple Big Ten games and it looked like our chance to win the Big Ten (regular season title) was over, there got to be a lot of pressure on this team. And another loss or two and the chance to get in the NCAA tournament is on the bubble.

"You know, we've been a bubble team for a long time, and I had a couple great coaches around the country call me and say just keep fighting through it because it's not going to be easy because you haven't been there very often. You don't know the road to take. And I kind of explained that to my team. I said, 'Hey look, I'm not going to be the savior, because I haven't been here either, where our backs our against the wall.' But since I was brought up in the (Upper Penninsula) it was fight your way out of it. And I think we are fighting our way out of it."

By Steve Yanda  | March 11, 2011; 9:46 PM ET
 
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Next: NCAA tournament 2011: Alabama, Penn State contending for final berths

 
 
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