East Lansing, MI (SportsNetwork.com) - Regional action in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic continues on Monday night, as the Portland Pilots pay a visit to the Michigan State Spartans.
Portland is 1-1 on the young season, having topped visiting UC Davis in the opener (100-83), then bowing on the road at Oregon State five days later (79-73). The Pilots return all five starters from last year's team that went just 11-21, and they will return home following this contest to play five in a row.
Michigan State is 3-0 after logging a pair of home wins over McNeese State (98-56) and Columbia (62-53), sandwiched around a neutral-site triumph over top-ranked Kentucky in Chicago (78-74). The Spartans are the favorite to win the Big Ten Conference this season, and they will head to New York City after this clash to participate in the championship round of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic this weekend with bouts slated against Virginia Tech and either Oklahoma or Seton Hall.
Michigan State, which has won 72 straight home games against unranked non- conference foes, defeated Portland, 74-60, in the Far West Classic in Portland last year.
Although it's only been two games, the Pilots are averaging a robust 86.5 ppg in hitting their field goals at a 46.4 percent clip. They have been solid from 3-point range as well (.385), and even their free throws are falling at a respectable rate (.778). The team boasts three double-digit scorers, with Ryan Nicholas and Kevin Bailey both averaging 20.5 ppg. Bobby Sharp is netting 14.0 ppg, despite coming off the bench in both games. Nicholas pulls down 9.5 rpg, helping Portland to 33.0 rpg, which unfortunately comes in 5.0 rpg less than what the opposition collects on average.
Bailey scored a career-high 29 points and Nicholas added a career-best 27 points in the season-opening win over UC Davis, while the latter, who has led the team in both scoring and rebounding in each of the past two seasons, logged his first double-double of the campaign with 14 points and 13 rebounds in the loss to the Beavers.
Michigan State is averaging just a tad more than what Portland puts up, netting 88.0 ppg on the strength of a 50 percent shooting effort. The 3- pointer has fallen at an accelerated rate as well (.395), and the team has controlled the glass for the most part (+12.5 rebounding margin). The Spartans have three double-digit scorers, and five in all who are averaging at least 9.0 ppg. Adreian Payne and Gary Harris are both averaging 17.0 ppg, while Keith Appling adds 12.0 ppg, and the trio combine to grab 18 rpg, while handing out 28 assists and logging 10 steals.
Payne has recorded a double-double in eight of his last 14 games, and is coming off a 26-point, 11-rebound performance in Friday's closer-than-expected win over Columbia. Harris (11 points) was the only other player to hit for double figures, as the Spartans missed all seven of their long-range tries and had to battle back from a 26-22 halftime deficit. They went from shooting 35 percent from the field in the first half to 54.2 percent after the break, and they used a 22-8 edge in points from the foul line, as well as 17 turnovers from the Lions to earn the hard-fought victory.