It was yet another vintage Tom Izzo season. Overlooked by national pundits, the 2012-13 MSU cagers clawed into national relevance, rising to No. 4 by late February with wins over Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan—all ranked teams. The Spartans wound up 24-7 overall and tied for second place in the Big Ten at 13-5, a late bounce or whistle from retaining the conference title.
What distinguished this year’s hoopsters was their ability to recover from setbacks. MSU began the season with yet another first—an overseas opener against UConn at Ramstein AFB, Germany. It was a memory-making event for the players in every way but the result, a 66-62 loss. Four days later, the MSU team came back to beat Kansas 67-64. The Jayhawks would rise to a No. 1 ranking in late January.
MSU lost its conference opener at Minnesota, then No. 19, but rebounded to beat Wisconsin in its daunting venue in Madison, led by forward Branden Dawson’s 18 points and 13 caroms. MSU lost at top-ranked Indiana, then roared back to destroy No. 4 Michigan 75-52 at home. The Spartans often followed up a lackluster first half with an explosive second half. In close games, MSU made many key plays at game’s end—late layups by junior guard Keith Appling, for example, sealed wins against Kansas and Ohio State.
Perhaps this season’s biggest challenge was the schedule, which was ridiculous even by Izzo standards. The preseason included the likes of UConn, Kansas, Texas and Miami (FL), reflecting Izzo’s “anyone, anywhere” philosophy. In conference play, MSU had to play 11 games against teams that were ranked. Of special note was a late-season gauntlet against the four top league foes in a row—No. 1 Indiana, Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan and Wisconsin. The Spartans lost three in a row by very slim margins, and still managed to stay in the top ten of the AP national poll.
MSU did well to stay competitive, especially with assorted injuries to guards Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Travis Trice, along with the unexpected departure of Brandan Kearney. At times down to its barest core of players, the Spartans always competed hard till the final buzzer. Thankfully, freshmen Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello improved throughout the season and provided key back-up minutes—including grabbing 15 caroms against the Wolverines. Appling recovered quickly from a separated shoulder, but Trice lost significant playing time with a broken nose and concussion.
This year’s Spartans tended to methodically nurse small leads to victory; seldom did they blow opponents away. An exception occurred when archival Michigan visited in mid-February with a lofty ranking and mountains of press clippings. MSU responded with a “white-out” at Breslin Center that turned into the proverbial buzzsaw. The Spartans waltzed to a 75-52 triumph and offered delirium (but no suspense) as the clock ticked down. Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne dominated the paint while Harris notched 17 points on five treys. It was a “perfect storm” for MSU of shooting, defense, rebounding and arena atmospherics. A Wolverine player said after the rout, “They bullied us, point blank.”
Nix emerged as a force this season with his back-to-the-basket skills and his ability to kick the ball out to shooters, such as Harris, Appling and even the 6-10 Payne—who emerged as a high-percentage shooter.
MSU was able to secure wins against every ranked team in the conference except for Indiana, which swept MSU twice. Coached by former MSU assistant Tom Crean, the Hoosiers were ranked No. 1 for much of the season. But Spartan wins over Ohio State, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin—not to mention Kansas and Texas—helped build the team’s RPI and prepare it for the postseason.
Helping Izzo on the bench are assistants Dwayne Stephens, Dane Fife and Mike Garland.
MSU WINS BWW BOWL GAME—Dec. 29, 2012: In a thriller, MSU beat Texas Christian 17-16 at the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, AZ. Le’Veon Bell garnered 145 rushing yards and a late touchdown while Dan Conroy’s 47-yard field goal with 1:01 left provided the winning margin. Safety Roger Williamson recovered a TCU fumble of Mike Sadler’s 55-yard punt. Backup quarterback Connor Cook directed second-half scoring drives of 90 and 45 yards. “We pushed through the tough times,” Dantonio says, who now boasts a two-game winning streak in bowl games. “We stayed composed all the way through to the end.”
YEWCIC IS HONORED—Feb. 3: In 1954, Tom Yewcic quarterbacked MSU to a Rose Bowl victory and later was named MVP of the College World Series; he made All-American in both sports. He played professionally for the Detroit Tigers and the (then) Boston Patriots. A member of Biggie Munn’s famed “Pony Backfield,” Yewcic is the fifth Spartan baseball player to have his jersey retired. He was honored at MSU’s First Pitch as the 2013 Spartan Baseball Alumnus of the Year. Serving as keynote speaker was longtime Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz, a Lansing native who almost played for MSU. The only major league pitcher with 200 wins and 150 saves, Smoltz earned all-star honors eight times and won the 1996 Cy Young Award.
(L to r) Kirk Gibson, Tom Yewcic, Head Coach Jake Boss, Jr., and John Smoltz were the headliners at this year’s First Pitch, the baseball fundraiser.