EAST LANSING — Derrick Nix’s career-high 25 points and 11 rebounds was enough for the No. 20 Michigan State Spartans (11-2) to knock off the Texas Longhorns (7-5) 67-56 in MSU’s final nonleague game.
Nix shot 7-of-10 from the field and an astounding 11-of-13 from the free throw line.
The senior’s aggressive play stems back to the Spartans 92-56 victory over Tuskegee on Dec. 16 when teammate Brandan Kearney took notice to Nix’s strong play.
According to Nix, Kearney told him that he “set a new standard,” insinuating that Nix has to play as hard as he did against Tuskegee every game. Those words resonated with Nix as he nearly had a double-double against Bowling Green the following game — nine points and eight rebounds — and followed that game with an amazing performance today.
The Spartans were leading 12-11 with 9:36 left in the first half when Nix scored six straight points for MSU. However, Texas matched each Nix bucket immediately and the Spartans weren’t able to bust a open a sufficient lead.
After Nix’s sixth straight point the Spartans went scoreless for nearly three minutes until sophomore Branden Dawson put in a tip-shot, but the Spartans found themselves trailing by three.
Michigan State allowed the Longhorns to get eight points in the final six minutes from the free throw line and Texas went into the half leading 33-28.
While the Spartans ended the first half with only four points in the final three minutes, the start of the second half had an opposite result.
MSU came out scoring 10 points in the first four minutes which included a Gary Harris three ball with 17:36 left in the game, making it 34-33 in the Spartans favor, and from their they didn’t trail again.
Michigan State’s big man Adreian Payne was the story of the second half as he had all of 13 points in the final 20 minutes. The junior also shot 5-of-7 from the field and grabbed seven boards.
Brandan Kearney (3) defends Texas’ Ioannis Papapetrou (33). (Photo by USA Today)
This combined production is probably more than what MSU head coach Tom Izzo has been looking for from his one-two punch in the front court, and it seems as if the Spartans have found their bread and butter.
The Spartans highly-touted freshman combo of Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine struggled today as they combined for a total of 4-of-11 from the field with nine points, all of which Harris was responsible for. Valentine fouled-out for the first time in his college career with 6:36 left in the game.
Julien Lewis led the Longhorns with 16 points and Sheldon McClellan scored 13 points despite shooting 3-of-10 from the field.
Keith Appling added 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting and Dawson scored six points and hauled in 10 rebounds.
Michigan State opens Big Ten play on Dec. 31 with a big game against No. 13 Minnesota on the road.