Tom Izzo has lost his number.
I'm not sure exactly how he lost is number, mind you. Perhaps he left it on the roof of his car as he drove off. Maybe it slipped between the cushions of the couch, or he left it on the back of his chair at the restaurant. His kids could have even dropped it while walking home from show and tell at school. But Tom Izzo has definitely lost his number.
Because UNC has Tom Izzo's number.
For the third straight game, Michigan State headed to the locker room at halftime with a double-digit deficit and having given up 50 or more points to UNC. The Spartans had since their last meeting molded themselves even more like Carolina, picking up the tempo and building a strong interior game, only to meet a more deliberate UNC team this time out. It was the Heels who slowed the pace down tonight. Sure they pushed the ball up the court after a missed shot and still treated every defensive rebound as the firing gun of a sprint, but when the easy bucket wasn't there they probed the defense with a patience I haven't seen in quite some time. Every possession seemed to have two, three, or four entry passes, until the right shot could be found, and enough times that shot was on the perimeter to keep the defense honest – Ginyard, Drew, and Strickland were a combined 4-7 from behind the arc and 12-17 overall.
More importantly, it seemed like the freshmen were beginning to find their rhythm. The first half run where UNC pulled away from a 21-21 tie happened with four freshmen on the floor. Dexter Strickland had his best game to date, including two blocks, and John Henson was a game changer with four blocks, three in the first half. In fact, Carolina's height kept Michigan State off-balance or most of the game, forcing them to shoot tentatively, and miss badly. Add to that their extremely cold shooting from behind the arc, and it was no wonder that it wasn't until late that the Spartans put together any sort of run.
Of course, the fact that they were able to cut the lead to six and missed two prime opportunities to tighten it further is still worrisome. This Tar Heel team has yet to manage a full forty minutes of quality play. Deon Thompson was particularly frustrating late with a bad three-pointer, and a three of his five turnovers coming in the last 1:16 of play. Thompson has yet to display his senior leadership role on the court, and it's beyond time he did.
Luckily, Larry Drew and Ed Davis are stepping in. Davis was 8-10 for 22 points while only drawing one foul all game, while Drew was almost perfect from the field and more crucially 5-6 from the line in the final minute at a time when both Marcus Ginyard and Dexter Strickland were only hitting iron. This team has started to gel, and if the playing time is going more to the starting five, the rest of the team is making the most of their time on the court. There were still plenty of mistakes to irritate Roy Williams – how many times did MSU beat the Heels down the court after Carolina scores? – but it was a good win and the kind of game UNC will have to play to walk out of Rupp Arena with a win this weekend.