EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) – Kalin Lucas was told to take the season off, let his ruptured left Achilles’ tendon heal.
The Michigan State senior wouldn’t hear it, instead choosing a grueling rehabilitation plan that he was told would likely last up to eight months.
He started slowly, a factor in the Spartans’ tumble from being ranked No. 2 in the preseason, and he struggled without the speed that made him a star.
He finished strong, beating opponents off the dribble and by making 3-pointers from all angles.
Lucas averaged nearly 21 points during the second half of the season and scored a career-high 30 in an 18-point win over Purdue at the Big Ten tournament.
That impressive win helped Michigan State seal a spot in the NCAA tournament for the 14th year in a row, a run that trails just Kansas and Duke among active streaks.
After getting hurt during last year’s NCAA tournament, Lucas said he’s ready to lead the team to a third straight Final Four.
“I can definitely carry this team,” he said. “Our best players, they got to bring it the whole game. If you lose, you go home.”
The 10th-seeded Spartans (19-14) will face seventh-seeded UCLA (22-10) in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday night in the Southeast regional. If they win, they’ll likely face second-seeded Florida.
Michigan State has advanced to each of the past two Final Fours and had to do it last year without its best player. Lucas ruptured his tendon on March 21 in the second round, a setback that stunted his hopes of entering the NBA draft.
He returned and pushed himself back into shape with the help of athletic trainer Tom Mackowiak, and multiple rehab sessions a day. He endured several months of frustration.
“It made me tougher, more of a warrior, trying to come back from that injury,” Lucas said. “But I’m still not 100 percent.”
Lucas also sprained his right ankle Feb. 27 in a loss to Purdue toward the end of the regular season, then bounced back against the Boilermakers to break his career high in scoring.
It wasn’t a fluke.
He led the Spartans in scoring in 13 of the past 14 games, pushing his career total to 1,985 points to pull within 29 points of Greg Kelser for fourth place on the school’s career scoring list.
Lucas’ teammates, though, know the best could be yet to come.
“He was pretty good against Purdue, but I’ve seen him better,” forward Draymond Green said. “Everybody says Kalin is back, but I still know he’s got a little bit left. That says a lot about him. I’ll take my chances with him any day.”
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