Peterson rises to the challenge

Michigan State forward sparks second-half surge

Ncaa Men's Tournament

March 24, 2000|By DETROIT FREE PRESS

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Forward Morris Peterson said he never saw the movie "The Invisible Man." Funny, it looked as if he were cast in the starring role last night in the first half of Michigan State's comeback victory over Syracuse.

The game began well enough for Peterson. The first time he touched the ball -- five seconds after the tip-off -- he rose above a defender and drilled a three-point shot.

Peterson thought it was an omen. He was going to have the game of his life.

Eventually he did, scoring a game-high 21 points in MSU's 75-58 victory in the NCAA Midwest Regional semifinals.

But the route Peterson took to his season-saving and career-prolonging performance was anything but routine.

"It felt good," Peterson said of his first shot. "I felt comfortable out there."

Things changed quickly. Peterson took only two other shots from the field for the rest of the half and missed both.

For all practical purposes, he disappeared.

"I started hearing Jason Hart say: `There's the shooter. Watch the shooter,' " Peterson said of the Syracuse point guard. "They did a real good job getting a man out on me."

When Peterson arrived in the locker room at halftime with all of five points to his credit, teammate Mateen Cleaves was waiting for his fellow senior Flintstone.

"Mateen challenged me," Peterson said. "He got up in my face and said I had to shoot the ball. He said this could be our last game."

Then it was coach Tom Izzo's opportunity to take a run at the Big Ten Player of the Year.

"He said I was an All-American and I had to start playing like an All-American," Peterson said. "He said I had to start going at 100 miles an hour. He said if I started playing at 100 miles an hour things would start happening for me."

In the second half, Peterson played like everybody's All-American. The zone that baffled him and his teammates didn't seem so tough anymore.

All it took to crack the zone were some three-point shots, and Peterson was more than happy to oblige.

His first three-pointer cut Syracuse's lead to 42-35 with 17: 02 left.

"After I hit my first one in the second half, I looked at Mateen and said: `Keep giving me the ball, I feel hot,' " Peterson said. "It became a sense of urgency. I told myself if we were going to lose we were going to lose playing hard. I didn't want to lose looking like that."

Cleaves began looking for Peterson on every possession.

"He told me: `I've been waiting all night for you to say that,' " Peterson said with a smile.

Peterson hit consecutive three-pointers, then made two free throws. A Syracuse lead that once was 14 points was now down to three.

His final three-pointer came just after MSU took its first lead of the second half. Peterson took a pass from Andre Hutson and hit the shot from the left side, giving the Spartans a 63-58 advantage with 4: 42 left.

Syracuse never scored again.

Peterson finished 5-for-7 in the second half, 4-for-6 from three-point range, for 16 second-half points. And he got plenty of help from Cleaves, Hutson and A.J. Granger.

"I think our big guys really won the game for us," Peterson said. "They battled them inside. It wasn't just me out there."

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