Michigan State Spartans Learned A Great Lesson From Harvard Win that Should Carry Them to Dallas…
As the old adage goes, you often learn more from a loss than you do from a win.
That doesn’t mean the Spartans didn’t learn plenty from an 80-73 victory over the No. 12 seeded Harvard Crimson on Saturday to advance to the Sweet 16.
Michigan State built up a 47-33 halftime lead, and built the advantage to 16 points early in the second half. But the Spartans lost focus and allowed the Crimson to creep back into the game.
With 7:11 remaining in the contest, Harvard took the lead for the first time in a long while, 77-75. Fortunately for the Spartan Nation, Travis Trice answered with a trey, sparking an 8-0 MSU run to seal Michigan State’s 11th Sweet 16 appearance in the Tom Izzo era, and the program’s 12th in 17 years.
Spartan Nation Founder and Editor Hondo S. Carpenter, Sr. spoke with several MSU players and coaches after the game about the loss of focus, and how it will affect preparation heading into MSU’s upcoming matchup with No. 1 seed Virginia on Friday.
While the Spartans felt great with a big lead in hand, the feeling of joy soon turned to apprehension, as senior guard Keith Appling discovered.
“After I picked up my fourth foul, they just continued to attack, attack, attack, and I was kind of scared,” Appling said. “I know that one loss, and it’s over for me. I was worried, so when I got back in the game, I just wanted to make sure I was solid and smart and didn’t give up any fouls and didn’t give up any easy baskets for those guys.”
Some explain the lack of focus as a failure of the players to be on the same page, due to all the injuries earlier in the season, but Appling doesn’t agree.
“I just felt that late in the game, they just capitalized off our mistakes,” he said. “It was a lack of focus on our part. That’s something we can’t let happen again or we’ll be seeing an early exit.”
Sophomore guard Denzel Valentine eliminated another possible cause for the loss of focus.
“I don’t think it’s a killer instinct, I just think that when we get the lead, we need to slow down and be smart,” Valentine said. “It’s more about being smart than anything else.”
Assistant coach Dane Fife properly put the issue into perspective after the game.
“I think we lost focus, I don’t think it was a matter of us not being focus when we scored 47 points in the first half and only gave up 33 to a team that’s won some NCAA Tournament games in the past three years,” Fife said. “I think we needed to make some defensive adjustments at half and we did. And then Harvard made some defensive adjustments too. During that stretch, we built the biggest lead of the game to 16. I think that’s when we lost focus, obviously.
“We started making some turnovers, forcing some shots and stopped moving the ball. I give Harvard credit, though, they started driving the ball on us and we didn’t do a very good job of plugging the gaps.”
The loss of focus as the second half continued was certainly surprising to many. Because as Appling said, “In this tournament, with it being one-and-done time, one mistake can cause us to go home.”
But the mistake is correctable. While the win was closer than it should have been, nothing has been lost for the Spartans. Adjustments can be made between now and MSU’s Friday evening matchup with the Cavaliers.
“When we get the lead, we need to focus in a little bit more because that’s when we build our lead,” Valentine said. “We didn’t do it, and next thing you know, they’re in the ball game.”
“[We just need to] go over it with the guys and let them know that we can’t let it happen, because one more mistake and it’s all over,” Appling said.
In fact, in the long run, the close game could be beneficial for the Spartans. Michigan State might learn from the scare and be more prepared to face a better opponent in Virginia.
“Given the choice of having a close game like this as opposed to a blowout, I think it is good, I think you take the close game,” Fife said. “Knowing the outcome, I think you take the close win from a coaching standpoint in terms of teaching our team the deal with added pressure, such as being in the NCAA Tournament, making free throws, making plays down the stretch, and we did that.”