Michigan State has high expectations for the 2008-09 season, and it appears any championship run will depend on how far Raymar Morgan can carry the team.
Morgan looks to build off an outstanding performance and lead the fifth-ranked Spartans to a victory over Wichita State in the final game of the losers’ bracket in the Old Spice Classic on Sunday at the Milk House in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Michigan State (3-1) has been picked to finish in second place in the Big Ten, and it got off to a strong start with easy wins over Idaho and Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne.
Things did not go as well in the opening round of this tournament, however, as the Spartans were upset by Maryland 80-62 on Thanksgiving.
Morgan scored 43 points on 14-of-19 shooting in Michigan State’s first two games, but spent most of Thursday’s loss on the bench in foul trouble. He finished with just four points on 2-of-4 shooting.
Coach Tom Izzo challenged Morgan before Friday’s game against Oklahoma State, and the 6-foot-8 junior responded by scoring a season-high 29 points on 9-of-11 shooting in leading Michigan State to a convincing 94-79 victory.
Since the start of last season, the Spartans are 22-1 when Morgan scores 13 or more points, and are 8-9 when he doesn’t. Michigan State is 2-5 when Morgan is held to seven points or less.
Morgan, who was named to the Big Ten preseason all-conference team, was not in the starting lineup for just the fourth time in 68 career games on Friday, and the first time since his freshman year.
“I knew we couldn’t afford to get fouls on him early,” Izzo said. “He really responded and had an incredible game.”
Senior guard Travis Walton had 16 points for the second straight game Friday after scoring three points in his first two games combined.
“That was an interesting game for a coach because, as all you can imagine, nobody felt good about (Thursday),” Izzo said. “The credit definitely goes to the players.”
Michigan State holds a 4-3 lead in the all-time series with Wichita State (3-2). The programs haven’t met since the Spartans’ 83-64 victory on Dec. 10, 2005 in the Spartan Clash at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
The Shockers are coming off a 72-70 comeback win over Siena on Friday after losing to No. 21 Georgetown 58-50 in the first round of the tournament on Thanksgiving.
Wichita State, which trailed by 12 points with 10 minutes to play Friday, tied the score at 66 on Toure Murry’s 3-pointer with just over two minutes left and took a 68-66 lead on a layup by J.T. Durley with 1:20 remaining.
“This is a good win for a young basketball team this early in the year,” coach Gregg Marshall said.
The Shockers connected on 28-of-56 from the field on Friday after shooting a season-low 27.9 percent (17-for-61) against the Hoyas.
Clevin Hannah broke out of his shooting slump, finishing with a season-high 19 points as he hit 6-of-9 from the floor and 4-of-7 from 3-point range. He also helped preserve the win by making three free throws in the final 20 seconds of the game.
“I’ve got to shoot the ball because that’s what I’m good at,” said Hannah, who averaged 5.3 points on 20.8 percent shooting in his previous three games. “I just had to come out of my shell that I’ve been in and make shots.”