The 2013-14 season hasn’t been easy for head coach Tom Izzo’s Spartans.
Michigan State has dealt with all kinds of adversity. Injuries have forced the squad to play without the likes of Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson. Per usual, the Big Ten has been brutally competitive. Add in a grueling non-conference schedule including the likes of Oklahoma, Texas and North Carolina, and it’s easy to see why the Spartans are tired.
For the most part, MSU has gritted through the tough times, overcoming obstacles at every turn, and most importantly, finding ways to win.
But adversity final caught up with the Spartans on Saturday. Battling with the physical Georgetown Hoyas at the Madison Square Garden, in Izzo’s words, the Spartans got “manhandled” in an 87-85 loss.
The Spartans looked tired the entire game and didn’t give a great effort, as Izzo pointed out after the game.
But all is not lost. One game does not decide the course of a season. Izzo discussed the state of the team following the game, giving Green and White faithful much to think about.
“It’s disappointing but not upsetting,” Izzo said. “I know [Georgetown head coach] John Thompson III and I know his teams, it’s been the same for 20 years since Thompson III has been there. They play tough, they play hard. They’ve lost some games I didn’t think they should have lost. But I don’t think my team reacted that way.”
Izzo delved into the team’s problems, talking in-depth about the reasons for his team’s loss.
“It started at the beginning of the game when they don’t throw the ball inside that much and they just took it right at us,” Izzo said. “I just don’t feel we played with the toughness you have to play with under the circumstances we’re in. Then compound that with we have different guys in the lineup. We had turnovers that were layups. Gavin [Schilling] had two layups and he just didn’t catch the ball. We missed a ton of free throws again, Harris struggled. I thought the only two guys who played with any real energy were Keith [Appling] and Denzel [Valentine]. [Matt] Costello was a little bit better in the second half.
“They’re a good team; I don’t care what their record is. I watched them go up by 12 against Xavier and up against Kansas. They found ways to struggle too, but give them credit: they played harder than us, they deserved to win and we got what we deserved.”
Shot selection was also a topic of discussion after the game. The Spartans shot at a 39.6 percent clip, which was not attractive, taking into consideration that MSU averages a shooting percentage of 47.1 percent, third in the Big Ten.
“I thought early we took some bad shots, but I thought late we took some good shots. Between [Kenny] Kaminski and Harris and Valentine, we had some good shots,” Izzo said. “Poor Keith had two wide open 3’s. Denzel gave two passes in there when they were layups, we just dropped the ball, that means you’re not mentally in the game. I think maybe we got a little full of ourselves and thinking we’re gonna win pretty. As sick as it sounds, maybe it will help us.”
One crucial stat from the loss was MSU’s free throw percentage. As a team, the Spartans shot an ugly 56.3 percent, including 6-of-12 in the second half.
This is not an isolated. On the season, Michigan State is 11th in the Big Ten with a percentage of 68.8 from the charity stripe.
Izzo addressed the issue in a blunt fashion after the poor showing from the free throw line on Saturday.
“It is bothering me,” Izzo said. But I don’t get to shoot the [free throws]. Because I sure as hell know, I’d make them. You have to ask them [the players] that question. Why are they not making them or not working at it more. It has been an issue and with two good players. I think I know why [it is] with Keith [Appling] a little bit, he’s had a problem with that wrist.”
Another major area of concern for the Spartans is commitment, at least in the eyes of Izzo.
For the Green and White faithful, this is a bit disconcerting, especially considering why Izzo had to start Alex Gauna over Kaminski.
“I changed the lineup again because Kaminski couldn’t find the classroom again,” Izzo said. “When you make changes like that when you’re playing 10 guys in the first half and Byrd at the 4, against a team has some physical-ness to them and rebounding, it’s getting a commitment from all 12 guys. Right now we don’t have that, we need to get that back.”
But Spartan fans don’t have too much to fear. Izzo has been here before and knows how to right the ship.
“I’ve said [this] since the day I took this job: ‘Players play, tough players win,’” Izzo said. “When I die, I hope they put it on my tombstone, because it will be the same up in heaven. Tough angels are going to be better than those other ones….
“Today we got out-toughed. We got thrown around on the boards, we got posted up. I give John [Thompson III] a lot of credit, he took his team, an 11-9 team that has lost some tough games. Hopefully it will get him going, I have a lot of respect for him and his program. I thought they manhandled us, they really did.”
A key cog in the Spartan machine is set to return soon, which will also help. Adreian Payne, who missed most of January with a right foot sprain, is slated to make a comeback on Thursday against Penn State at the Breslin Center as long as he experiences no further setbacks.