January 30, 2009

VIDEO: Izzo, MSU prepare for streaking Penn State

EAST LANSING - Before watching Lansing Eastern and Grand Ledge go toe-to-toe on Friday night, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo had his basketball team back in the gym during the afternoon to prepare for the Spartans' next opponent in Penn State.
The No. 7 ranked Spartans beat the Nittany Lions by double figures on the road in Happy Valley earlier this winter, but Michigan State is wary of another home upset by a seemingly overmatched opponent.

The Spartans had also beaten Northwestern by double digits on the road before falling to the Wildcats at the Breslin Center.
As was the case prior to the Northwestern game, Izzo sees a Penn State team that has improved substantially since their last meeting with Michigan State.

The key to Penn State's recent surge, has a lot to do with the elevated play of Jamelle Cornley according to Izzo. Cornley's inspired play has helped the Nittany Lions build three-game winning streak in conference play leading up to Sunday's meeting at Michigan State.

"I definitely think that Cornley has been on a roll," said Izzo. "Maybe we started him out. I think he might have started a little bit before our game. But right now, arguably he is one of the best players in this league. He has done a much better job of letting the game come to him. He is an emotional leader. He has become a better passer. Last year, he forced a few things. This year he is not forcing them. He is shooting better. And his will to win, you watch the Iowa game and he almost solely won it by himself. Not always with a score, but with a big play, a steal, a big pass, a save on the out of bounds, and some incredible shots including 3-point shots.

"He is better and I think that makes him a lot better because those two guards have already been real good and inside they have size, they have been a great rebounding team. We outrebounded them the first time as you know but they have been a good rebounding team. I think they are improving because Cornley has improved and those guards are as good a tandem as there is in the league."

As part of the Nittany Lions' big three, Cornley is Penn State's second leading scorer with 15.4 points per game. The 6-foot-5 senior power forward from Columbus (Ohio) also leads Penn State in rebounds with 6.8 per game.

Cornley scored a team-high 26 points during a Jan. 14 loss to the Spartans. Michigan State won that game largely because they were able to keep Stanley Pringle from lighting up the scoreboard. Pringle scored just 8 points against the Spartans and shot 2-of-11 from the field. Dynamic sophomore point guard Talor Battle had a big game against the Spartans with 20 points in a losing effort.

Michigan State had Raymar Morgan at full strength against Penn State in mid January. Morgan's health is once again expected to limit the productivity of the junior forward, who scored just two points in the eight minutes he played against Iowa.

"We are compensating by trying to get more done with him," said Izzo. "Meaning, more checks, more tests, and that's what we are doing on that side of it. On the other side of it, tonight and tomorrow we are going to have to figure out what we are going to do if he cannot play or if he can only play limited minutes because Cornley does pose a problem. A lot of times he plays the three, sometimes he plays the four. It is just one of those things where I am not sure yet."

In Morgan's absence, sophomore Durrell Summers has elevated his play substantially. Summers has had back-to-back outings with 20 points or more, scoring 21 points against Iowa after establishing a new career high with 26 points at Ohio State.

But the improvement in Summers' play, says Izzo, has less to do with Morgan's absence than it does with the second-year player's increased dedication to basketball and a desire to improve in every facet of the game.

"Durrell has played better because Durrell has been growing as a person and as a player," said Izzo. "First semester, Durrell grew up a lot on the court and off the court. I think he has worked harder on his game and spent more time. I don't think it is just Ray's absence."

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