November 9, 2010

Lucas sizzles with career-best five 3-pointers

EAST LANSING - Kalin Lucas might not have all of his horsepower and gears just yet, but the ride is as smooth as ever.

Lucas turned in one of the better shooting nights of his Spartan career during Monday night's 102-72 victory over Nebraska-Omaha, at Breslin Center, going 5-of-7 from 3-point range while scoring a game-high 25 points.

Head coach Tom Izzo has been saying all preseason that Lucas's shooting has improved as he has worked to come back from a ruptured Achilles, which sidelined him midway through last year's NCAA Tournament victory of Maryland. In Monday's close to the exhibition season, we saw what Izzo was talking about.

Lucas's five 3-pointers is the most he has made in a single game in a Spartan uniform. It won't be recorded as a personal best, because it came in an exhibition game. But the shooting performance was right up there with his 4-of-6 marksmanship from 3-point range at Minnesota last year, and his 4-of-5 performance last season against Massachusetts.

"I thought Kalin Lucas was great," Izzo said. "The way he is shooting it, and the way he is under control when he is shooting, taking very few bad shots ... I was very impressed by the way he played."

Nebraska-Omaha didn't present the Spartans with the best defense they will see all year, but it won't be the worst. UNO won its conference last year with a 22-9 record, albeit at the Division II level.

"We have had a chance to play Nebraska, Iowa State, Creighton, Colorado State (over the years) and they would always have like one or two (players) that there isn't a matchup for us," said Nebraska-Omaha head coach Derrin Hansen. "But tonight, there is six or seven, and then eight or nine.

"You get to this level, that athleticism, that well-coached, it's a whole different ballgame because you look at things and there is not a weakness that you can take away, at least for us."

Chief among the strengths was Mr. Lucas.

Lucas nailed his first 3-pointer of the night near the end of the first half, when working as the right wing while Korie Lucious played the point. With Lucas suddenly hot, Lucious hurried the ball to Lucas again, near the same spot, a few seconds later for a buzzer-beater at the end of the half, giving the Spartans a 47-26 lead at the break.

"I was just feeling it a little bit, hitting some shots, so I stayed at the two and Korie played the point," Lucas said. "My teammates did a great job of helping me out."

Midway through the second half, Lucas got hot again, and his teammates looked to feed him. He drilled three 3-pointers in a three-minute span.

He drove, dished to Draymond Green, then quickly got it back for a 3-point launch.

Then he orbited around the left wing and received a short little Euro kickout pass from Durrell Summers for a 3.

He finished by knocking down a triple from the top of the key off the dribble in the early offense.

For the game, Lucas was 8-of-14 from the field, with five assists and two turnovers.

"He played maybe as well as I've seen him play if you look at everything, except for two things: I don't think we pushed it as good as he can, and I think some of that is still the injury. And our transition defense. He still has to get back (on defense)."

That's where the lack of horsepower comes into play.

"Don't be fooled," Izzo said. "He (Lucas) did a lot of great things, but his speed, his pushing of the ball is still nowhere near where it was last year. There is a confidence level right now about pushing off on that foot. He has to get over the physical and mental part of it."

But Izzo saw flashes of the old speed, at times.

"One of the last plays, I was excited, he came out of there like a jet," Izzo said. "He played 25 minutes. He guarded pretty good. I don't think he is explosive like he was but I think he is way ahead (of where we thought he might be). That's a tribute to him and our trainers and what they've done in the last eight months."

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