In Sweet 16, Michigan State's Korie Lucious will need to keep things in check

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 26, 2010

ST. LOUIS -- Michigan State point guard Korie Lucious estimated Thursday afternoon that in the four days since he hit a game-winning shot that propelled the Spartans into the Sweet 16, he has used the word "solid" roughly 1,000 times.

In nearly every response to questions from reporters this week, the former backup with an improvisational bent offered up "solid" as his chief objective. If Michigan State is to defeat Northern Iowa -- its opponent Friday night -- and advance to the Midwest Region final, the Spartans will need that goal to become a reality rather than just a desire.

When Kalin Lucas, Michigan State's all-Big Ten first-team point guard, left Sunday's second-round game against Maryland with a torn left Achilles' tendon late in the first half, the responsibility of leading Michigan State to victory fell on the shoulders of Lucious, Lucas's unpredictable understudy.

Lucious spent the second half alternately frustrating and thrilling Spartans Coach Tom Izzo with his performance. In the end, he played the role of the hero -- draining a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.

This week -- amid the newfound media glare and the news that Lucas is done for the remainder of the season -- Lucious was charged with finding a balance between his natural, free-flowing style and the more conservative approach necessary to survive at this stage in the postseason.

"One thing about Korie, he's got a little junkyard dog in him," Izzo said. "He's got a little bit more playground mentality. And I mean that in a positive way, because it can work both ways. And sometimes it does work against him, you know? But for the most part I don't worry about Korie or Kalin being afraid of anything. That's where the toughness is a positive.

"Is he a little nervous? Maybe. But I'm not worried about that, either. I'm more worried about him making the point guard decisions that you have to make."

Lucious, a 5-foot-11 sophomore, averaged 21.6 minutes per game this season in mostly a reserve role; he started just three games. He's had discussions with Lucas and the coaching staff about the additional responsibilities he now faces, as well as the alterations to his approach that those responsibilities mandate.

"You've got to be yourself, but at the same time you've got to understand there's a difference," said Travis Walton, a guard on last season's national runner-up squad who now serves as a Michigan State student-assistant coach. "You're going from playing 20 minutes [per game] and not really being the focal point on the [opposing team's] scouting report to now playing 30 to maybe 35 minutes and being one of the main guys on the scouting report.

"With that being said, when you're playing 20 minutes and not a focal point, you can go in there and look for a home run play, you can go in there and take an unadvised shot, because you may get pulled out after that shot. Now, that unadvised shot may lead to a run for the other team, or that home run turnover may lead to a bad play for us."

The Spartans led by 12 with 11 minutes remaining Sunday against Maryland when Lucious slung a one-handed pass intended for forward Raymar Morgan underneath the basket. As Izzo watched the ball sail out of bounds, he fell to his knees and momentarily pressed his forehead against the floor.

When he got up, Izzo implored his team's most suddenly vital player to be more technically sound in execution.

"Please, Korie, two hands!" Izzo yelled.

After he rose from his locker room chair Thursday to face a horde of cameras and recorders, Lucious talked about being more judicious in his decision-making, about doing what was necessary to help the Spartans win. Throughout his comments, Lucious made sure to sprinkle in his new favorite word -- the one that could determine whether Michigan State's season extends beyond Friday night.

"Sometimes I try to force passes that might not be there," Lucious said. "I'm going to have to take away from that and not try to force passes and think twice about the kind of passes that I make. Just trying to play as solid as possible."

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