March 11, 2012

Latest reason to fear MSU: Brandon Wood

EAST LANSING - The presence of Tom Izzo and two-time Final Four participant Draymond Green is enough to make opponents wary of No. 1 seeded Michigan State in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

But the latest reason to fear the Spartans is the fact that senior Brandon Wood is suddenly playing his best basketball of the year, and maybe his career.

Wood, a one-year transfer from Valparaiso where he was first-team All-Horizon League, came to the forefront in Spartan victories over Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament.

A recent insertion into the starting lineup due to the late-season injury to Branden Dawson, Wood played a pivotal, starring role in the Spartans' tournament championship and ultimately in gaining a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Wood scored a personal season-high 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting against Ohio State, including 4-of-8 from 3-point range.

"When Brandon Dawson went down, we really spent some time talking to him and telling him and pushing him and pulling him," Izzo said.

Wood scored 10 points against Iowa on Friday and 9 against the Badgers in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals on Saturday.

Prior to the weekend, Wood had scored in double figures in only three of the previous 16 games. But he heads into the teeth of March Madness with double figures in two of his last three.

"Brandon Wood stepped up big," said Draymond Green. "I went out on the bench and I guess he had 8‑0 run or something, I heard about."

Green only heard about it because he was on the bench with a bump on his head and the wind knocked out of him after getting slammed to the floor while trying to draw a charge with 14:10 left. Green's effort went unrewarded. No call was made and Ohio State's Aaron Craft kicked out to DeShaun Thomas for a 3-pointer in the corner. Thomas's shot gave Ohio State a 52-45 lead and with Green dazed and taking a standing eight count, that play had the look of a turning point.

It was. In the other direction. Thanks to Mr. Brandon Wood.

Wood ignited a 10-0 Spartan run which halted Ohio State's momentum and sent a clear signal that Michigan State could and would rally with our without Green.

The run:

  • Wood began it with a dish to Derrick Nix for a dunk of a screen-and-roll look.

  • Then Wood nailed a 3-pointer from the left wing in transtion, thanks to a fast push and timely pass from Keith Appling. That cut OSU's lead to 52-50.

  • Feeling it, Wood then drained a 3-pointer from the left wing off a side ball screen threat, with Nix running interference. That gave MSU a 53-52 lead with 12:50 to play.

  • Wood was still feeling it when he missed a 3-pointer from the left wing in transition. The shot didn't fall, but Ohio State's defense was scrambling to get back and find him - which left Brandan Kearney open to tip in the rebound, giving MSU a 55-52 lead with 11:55 left.

    "The 10‑0 run they had on us when we got it up to 7 was a big key," said Ohio State coach Thad Matta.

    New March Dimensions

    Wood was a sizzling 7-or-13 from 3-point range in the Big Ten Tournament.

    "He was on it today, making shots, and that's what he's known for," Matta said.

    Well, Wood was a quality, 35-percent shooter from 3-point range during the regular season. But the long-range threat he proved to be in the Big Ten Tournament is more along the lines of what MSU hoped they were getting when Wood opted to transfer to Michigan State.

    "He was feeling it from behind the line there and hit some difficult shots," Matta said. "We didn't get matched up quite as quickly as we needed to."

    In the last two weeks, Wood has found openings as part of MSU's revitalized fastbreak that weren't there during the rest of the season.

    "Getting the break going, it helped Brandon Wood, and yet Brandon Wood was part of reason the break wasn't good because (he's) not guarding well enough," Izzo said. "We were all taking the ball out of the basket and then not running that lane.  And now he's starting to put it all together, and Keith Appling has been pushing it harder, outlets have been better.

    "If we getting our rebounding back on track here, I think we can get our running game going even more, and that will help this team."

    Green likes what Wood is doing on the defensive end, more so than even Wood's hot shooting.

    "I'm not impressed by the shots because I know a he's a shot‑taker and a shot‑maker," Green said. "We're not impressed by him driving, getting on the fast break because I know he's athletic enough to finish on a break. I was mostly impressed with his defense, and that's an area Brandon has been growing in since he got here. 

    "We all know Brandon wasn't the best defender at Valparaiso, but once he got to Michigan State and became one of our lock‑down defenders."

    Wood tried to hang with Ohio State's William Buford a week earlier when Buford erupted for 25 points during the Buckeyes' victory over MSU at Breslin Center, mostly in Dawson's absence.

    After a week of intense preparation and defensive cramming, Wood looked like a new defender in Indianapolis. First he was the primary defender in holding hot Iowa scorer Matt Gatens to just one field goal in six attempts on Friday. And Sunday, he helped hold Buford to just 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting.

    "You know, you lose a Brandon Dawson, and everybody's worried that William Buford gonna go off," Green said. "So you gotta give this guy (Wood) a lot of credit on the way he defended. Maybe some people are just really seeing what he can do. The way he defended is what kept us in the game."

    "My assistant video coordinator, Doug Herner, said to me after, you know, this might be one of your great success stories," Izzo said of Wood's recent progress, "because it happened in such a short period of time. Brandon Wood, when you look at it, has probably done an incredible job of gaining the system, playing in these big games."

    Izzo looked to Green, back at mid-summer when Wood transferred in, to help Wood's acclimation to the Izzo system.

    "We told DayDay, we gotta speed this process up when we got him," Izzo said. "That's when Day‑Day said, 'You can live with me.' Kind of takes him in, finds a three‑bedroom instead of a two‑bedroom.  Not many guys that will do that."

    There aren't many programs like Michigan State.

    "Just to be a part of the tournament for myself, it's something I've always dreamed of," Wood said. "And to now be a part of that with these guys, it's just a once‑in‑a‑lifetime opportunity for me. And I'm just proud that we did it on my one time."

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