East Lansing, MI (SportsNetwork.com) - The fifth-ranked Michigan Spartans return to the Breslin Center on Saturday afternoon and will attempt to extend their winning streak to four games as they host the New Orleans Privateers in non-conference action.
New Orleans has gotten off to a 3-4 start to the season, but it has been trending up recently with back-to-back wins. After taking down Champion Baptist at home on Dec. 14 (101-38), the Privateers opened a four-game road swing on Dec. 16 by claiming a 71-69 victory over Texas-El Paso.
Michigan State had risen to the No. 1 spot in the AP poll following a 7-0 start to the season, but it slipped up at home on Dec. 4 to North Carolina in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, 79-65. Since then, the Spartans have gotten back on track with three straight wins to climb to 10-1, most recently earning a strong road victory over Texas on Dec. 21, 92-78.
This matchup marks the first-ever meeting between New Orleans and Michigan State on the hardwood.
The Privateers were able to take a two-point lead with 5:15 left in their most recent game on a Matt Derenbecker jumper, and they hung on to the advantage en route to the strong road victory. Although it wasn't their best night from the free-throw line (9-of-17), they more than made up for it by shooting a lofty 50.9 percent from the field, including 8-of-20 from 3-point range. Cory Dixon and Derenbecker paced the effort with 12 points apiece, while Tradarri McPhearson and Isaac Mack netted 11 and 10 points, respectively. New Orleans has had modest offensive success this season, scoring 72.9 points per game, but unfortunately its opponents nearly keep pace (72.0 ppg). Dixon is both the team's leading scorer (15.0 ppg) and rebounder (7.4 rpg), while Derenbecker (12.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Mack (10.5 ppg) are also regular contributors.
The Spartans were locked in a tight battle with Texas last Saturday, as the game was tied at 54 with under 11 minutes to play, but they pulled away with a 9-2 run en route to the convincing 14-point victory. They shot 50 percent from the field in the triumph and put forth a busy, efficient showing from the free-throw line (27-of-33). Leading the charge was Adreian Payne with a career-best performance, shooting 10-of-13 from the field and 11-of-12 from the stripe for 33 points to go with nine rebounds. Gary Harris (19 points, five assists) and Travis Trice (13 points) were both strong off the bench, while Branden Dawson tallied a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. It's no surprise that Michigan State has been one of the nation's elite teams this season, as it shoots 48.6 percent from the field for 82.1 points per game, 15.2 points more than it allows, while also boasting positive margins in rebounding (+4.8) and turnovers (+2.4). Payne is a versatile forward, tallying 18.1 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, while shooting 53 percent from the field and 45.7 percent from 3-point range. Harris brings 17.8 points per game to the table, Keith Appling (14.9 ppg) has 52 assists paired with only 22 turnovers, and Dawson (10.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg) is a nightly double-double threat.