Tom Izzo was a crosscourt pass away from me. The Breslin Center was roaring with chants from nearly 15,000 fans. Sparty looked even more muscular in person.
Playing the Michigan State Spartans was a surreal experience, and I was sitting in Section 118 Row 24 Seat 107. I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for the FSU men’s basketball team who was actually out on the hardwood competing. Facing off against Division I perennial powerhouse MSU in such an intimidating environment might have proved too much for many Division II teams to handle, but the Bulldogs and head FSU coach Bill Sall welcomed the challenge.
The Spartans hosted the Bulldogs in an exhibition matchup Sunday afternoon in East Lansing, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. FSU held their own against the Big 10 heavyweights as the Bulldogs trailed MSU by just 9 points at halftime.
Senior forward Jerrell Sanders tallied 10 points in the opening half and finished the game with 14 points total. Sanders missed the majority of last season due to injury and is projected to have a major impact this year.
Junior forward Daniel Sutherlin added 14 points of his own, and senior guard Dontae Molden had 10 points. Sutherlin’s athleticism stood out even among the field of Division I competitors, and I think it’s safe to say Bulldog fans can expect some exciting things from him this season.
Five freshmen saw playing time for FSU. Of those seeing action, I was most impressed with freshman guard Dietrich Lever. His combination of quickness, fearlessness and seemingly endless energy could be just the sparkplug this team needs.
But it’s not the only thing this team needs.
With 15:13 left in the contest, the Spartans went on a 16-5 run to push their lead to 20 points and slam the door on FSU. The Bulldogs fell to MSU by a final score of 85-58.
Even from my mid-level seat, I could see that FSU was overwhelmed in the second half of play. Particularly the Bulldog big men. Senior center Jim Boylan fouled out with less than nine minutes to go in the game. Freshman forward Dan Chilcote committed his fifth with 16:32 left in the contest.
The referees may have been a bit nitpicky, and yes, it’s undoubtedly challenging to try and contain Draymond Green, but I couldn’t help but wish Justin Keenen had one more year of eligibility left. Man, that guy could play.
Alas, he’s somewhere playing overseas which means someone on the current roster will need to step up and fill his shoes. The shoes left by the Division II Player of the Year will undeniably be hard to fill, but there are some big guys on this team with pretty big feet.
After all, if they’re up for playing the Spartans, what’s a little ball with their back to the basket?