Tennessee Tech-Michigan St. Preview

Michigan State is sure to slip in the AP poll after suffering

its first loss, but coach Tom Izzo knows each tough regular-season

game prepares his team for the NCAA tournament.

With another big challenge looming against the nation’s No. 1

team, the second-ranked Spartans look for their 50th consecutive

non-conference home victory when they meet Tennessee Tech on Sunday

night.

Michigan State (4-1) finished third in the Maui Invitational

with a 76-71 victory over No. 13 Washington on Wednesday. The

Spartans struggled with Division II Chaminade last Monday before

winning 82-74, then lost Tuesday to eventual tournament champion

Connecticut 70-67.

That defeat surely erased the possibility of a No. 1 vs. No. 2

matchup Wednesday, when the Spartans travel to Cameron Indoor

Stadium to face top-ranked Duke.

A difficult non-conference schedule is a staple of Izzo-coached

teams, and he said the competition in Maui helped provide Michigan

State with a glimpse of what lies ahead as it shoots for a third

consecutive Final Four appearance.

“We did show some character because it wasn’t easy,” Izzo said.

“We had a tough loss (Tuesday) in a game we led down the stretch

and thought we could have won. It’s disappointing to not win the

tournament, but make no mistake about it, there’s about three teams

here are I think are as good as we’ll face all year.”

Kalin Lucas seems to be up to the challenge. The senior guard

and preseason Big Ten player of the year scored a career-high 29

points Wednesday, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range. Lucas left

the game momentarily after Washington’s Justin Holiday fell on his

left knee during a scramble for a loose ball, but he returned to

hit two late free throws to seal the victory.

“My knee’s fine,” said Lucas, averaging 18.0 points. “I really

don’t know what I did to it. It kind of hurt a little bit, the

doctors looked at it, but I’m fine.”

Draymond Green had 12 points and six rebounds for the Spartans,

who shot 49.0 percent from the field after being held to season

lows of 40.4 percent and 67 points versus UConn.

“It was good to come out and get a win like that, especially

after the loss we took (Tuesday),” said Green, who came off the

bench for a second straight game despite averaging 14.8 points and

a team-high 9.6 boards.

The Spartans will receive more depth up front with the return of

sophomore center Derrick Nix, who was not with the team to Maui for

personal reasons. Nix started 16 games as a freshman but has played

sparingly in two games off the bench this season.

Nix now hopes to help Michigan State extend its 49-game winning

streak at the Breslin Center against non-conference foes, dating to

a 72-50 defeat to Duke on Dec. 3, 2003.

The Golden Eagles (0-2) haven’t played in more than a week after

Tuesday’s game against Appalachian State was canceled due to a

miscommunication in supplying referees. Tennessee Tech lost 73-60

at East Tennessee State on Nov. 20.

Alfred Jones is scoring a team-high 10.5 points per game and

Terrell Barnes is averaging 10.0 rebounds.

“Playing in East Lansing is a great opportunity for our guys,”

coach Mike Sutton told the Golden Eagles’ official website. “Going

up against a team that has a chance to go very deep in the NCAA

tournament gives us a chance to learn from some of the best players

in college basketball right now.”

The Spartans and Golden Eagles last met Dec. 28, 2005, when

Michigan State won 80-63.