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These Spartans are Defined by Toughness

Feb 07, 2013 Adam Ruff | View Comments

I'm not sure how you've viewed the Michigan State basketball team this season, but I believe they defined themselves in Wednesday night's 61-50 win over Minnesota.

At times, this team has frustrated Coach Tom Izzo. Especially in the last two games, playing sluggish first halves, only to come out in the second and dominate.

Yet despite their flaws, the Spartans made it through a five game stretch against Ohio State, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota with a 4-1 mark.

So how were they able to do it?

It's simple. Toughness.

I don't think the old Spartan axiom of PPTPW (Players Play, Tough Players Win) gets used enough any more, including this year. But it should be used for this team. After all, the Spartans are being defined by it.

In my 7 seasons of covering Spartan basketball, I haven't witnessed what I saw last night.

Blood. Injuries. Screaming.

"I mean he was screaming," Izzo said about Keith Appling's reaction after his right shoulder popped out with 1:17 remaining. "Did you hear him?"

"When he went down, it definitely popped out. He was hurting."

What about Adreian Payne and his bloody nose?

"AP's nose is bleeding and they can stop it," Izzo said, remembering what he witnessed in real time. "It might be broke."

And those are just the injuries from last night - not to mention Branden Dawson's ankle twist in the second half.

With the injuries mounting to an already depleted backcourt, Coach Izzo was most likely thinking the same thing the rest of us were.

"I was just looking down our bench...{Pause}...{Pause}...{Head Shake}...it was amazing."

Keith Appling, meanwhile, was just as honest with his injury assessment.

"I would definitely say it's scary, because one guy after another is getting injured."

Don't forget, Travis Trice was already missing from action due to "Concussion-like" symptoms, while Gary Harris came into the game with a pair of bad shoulders and back spasms.

Still, Harris starred, despite spending a majority of the game running around the court like a 50-year old man (Or a 40-year old Joe Rexrode, if you will), playing 36 minutes and leading all scorers with 15 points.

Look, last night wasn't pretty (just look at MSU's 6-of-25 shooting in the first half), but the way Michigan State won was beautiful.

This Spartan team may not be showing the offensive precision or sound defensive tactics that Coach Izzo expects this late in the season, but their toughness has trumped all.

As I entered the locker room following the win, I was expecting to see a bunch of worn out, beleaguered players. Instead, I encountered laughter and high spirits.

That's when it dawned on me. These guys simply love basketball and winning.

"We've just got to suck it up, man, that's what it's all about," Appling said matter-of-factly. "You play basketball, you're gonna get injured."

To me, these Spartans are special. And I have a feeling that great things are ahead for this team.