EAST LANSING — When Michigan State basketball fell to 0-3 in Big Ten play on Dec. 28, Tom Izzo remained calm.
“It’s not Panicsville,” he said after a blowout loss at Minnesota.
Friday night’s collapse against Purdue has brought the Spartans to at least the outskirts of “Panicsville,” though. Blowing a 17-point cushion at home in the second half — and a four-point lead in the final 19.1 seconds — will do that.
“Especially losing like that,” senior guard Joshua Langford said, “it’s tough.”
Michigan State’s head coach Tom Izzo, right, talks with Foster Loyer during the first half of the game against Purdue on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
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Unlike the thumping by the Gophers, MSU’s 55-54 loss to the Boilermakers is the type of soul-crushing defeat that, if not left behind quickly, can linger in a team’ psyche. A game which the Spartans looked like they would win handily, only to hand it to Purdue with a costly series of missed shots, turnovers and defensive deficiencies over the final 15 minutes.
“There’s no need to hang our heads,” Langford said. “It’s still early in the season, and I believe we have a great basketball team. We can do a lot of high-level things. So we just have to stay encouraged, man.”
Minutes later, fellow captain Aaron Henry took the same podium. His eyes repeatedly tilted toward the floor as he searched for solace.
“We’ll look at this film, grow from it and learn from it,” a solemn Henry said, his head drooping. “Tough loss — it is what it is, man. You gotta face the facts, grow from it and then continue to get better.”
[ Izzo feels Spartans ‘got back to playing Michigan State basketball’ vs. Rutgers ]
After winning three straight regular-season Big Ten titles, the Spartans at 2-4 in the league after about a third of the 2020 slate. They are a long way, though, from the team that opened the season by winning six straight — including on at Duke — and climbing to No. 4 in the USA Today coaches poll.
Gone is the group that confidently and comfortably moved the ball around the perimeter with assists on nearly 74% of its baskets in nonconference play. MSU only had 12 assists against Purdue and hit four shots from the field in the second half, finishing with season lows of 16 made field goals and three 3-pointers. The Spartans also had 10 turnovers in the second half while blowing the lead.
Michigan State’s Rocket Watts is stunned after losing to Purdue on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
The parts, and the sum thereof, are equally waning. Rocket Watts and Joey Hauser are shells of the players who looked like the next Cassius Winston-Xavier Tillman duo at season’s start. Langford vacillates between emerging and disappearing on offense. Henry has yet to consistently dominate, while Gabe Brown remains a mercurial presence at both ends of the floor. The post rotation continues to be a four-man question mark. Foster Loyer’s defensive limitations have not disappeared.
And Izzo, perhaps subconsciously showing frustration, delivered his most blunt critique of his team in Friday’s aftermath.
“It’s a shame,” he said. “You’ll never know how hard it is to lose a game like that when the effort was there, and maybe the skill wasn’t.”
If the skill isn’t there to beat one of the few unranked foes the Spartans face this month, how will they fare Thursday at No. 7 Iowa, against Luka Garza and Co.? Or against another talented big man — Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis — at home on Jan. 17? Or in the three-game stretch at the end of the month — Jan. 23 at Breslin Center against No. 12 Illinois, followed by road games at No. 14 Rutgers on Jan. 28 and at Ohio State on Jan. 31.
“I think they’ll bounce back,” Izzo said. “Guys were hurt in the locker room. Nobody was mad at anybody, including me. I told you guys I thought it would take till the middle of January for us to come around. There’s some changes, and there’s some things that you we gotta get straightened out still. …
“This team is not lost.”
Michigan State forward Aaron Henry reacts after fouling Purdue forward Trevion Williams in the final seconds at Breslin Center in East Lansing on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021.
Only two other Izzo teams have opened Big Ten play with a 2-4 record: the 2001-02 and 2002-03 squads. Both closed 8-2 in a 16-game conference slate, but each took different postseason paths. In 2002, the Spartans lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament (to North Carolina State). The following year, they made it to the 2003 Elite Eight, before falling to Texas.
Thinking about possibilities of resurrection helped lift Henry’s head.
“The formula doesn’t change. The preparation never changes with me and our team,” the junior said. “You gotta come back to the drawing board tomorrow with an open mind, ready to learn, ready to get better. I’ve never seen anybody go back and change anything in life, and that’s one of the things that I grasp a better focus on, just maturing as a leader and understanding that and taking advantage of the present, of the now, of those effort plays we could have had in the last 20 seconds, of those things that we could have did to not have this feeling again. That’s something that I can’t stress enough or coaches can’t stress enough, just to us.
“(The loss) is gonna eat at everybody tonight. But In times like these, in adversity, people grow. I can’t wait to see the steps that we take next and how far this team can go.”
There remains a lot of basketball ahead, and the Big Ten is deep and talented. The Spartans possess the talent to finish in the top half of the league, but only if they can solve the problems that have popped up through the first six games of conference play.
Contact Chris Solari: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State basketball’s psyche will be tested by Purdue collapse
Published: 2021-01-10 11:01:30
Tags: #Michigan #State #basketballs #fragile #psyche #tested #collapse #Purdue