Still-slumping Spartans hardly inspire faith in near Maryland collapse
INDIANAPOLIS — Betting against Tom Izzo in March is always a bad idea.
Unless it’s this March.
Even in victory, this version of the Spartans demonstrated they just aren’t very good, backing their way to a 76-72 win 10th-seeded Maryland in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
The Spartans turned into Mr. Bean for the final 2:26 of this near disaster, turning the ball over 7 times against Maryland’s press. Only a missed Fatts Russell 3-pointer in the waning seconds prevented Michigan State from squandering what had been a 12-point lead with 3 minutes left.
Michigan State, which lost 7 of 10 to finish out the regular season, continues to look closer to a valley than a peak.
“Angry’s probably a bad word. Is that in the vocabulary anymore? Are we allowed to be angry?” Izzo mused after the game. “Probably not, somebody will sue you for it. So disappointed, a little frustrated, a little bummed out, and for Tom Izzo, freaking angry, yeah.
“Yeah, I was angry. I do not accept that. That’s not — that’s not what I should be doing. So I’ll go home and beat the hell out of myself, look at the film and figure out how to get better.”
For some perspective, Northwestern had 8 turnovers in an entire 40-minute game against Iowa earlier in the day. Michigan State almost matched it in 1/20th of the time.
After the game, Izzo put his Hall of Fame touch on display.
Knowing full well that his young team might go into a shell after its Bad News Bears routine, Izzo was not overly critical. He put the blame on himself for not suitably preparing Michigan State’s press offense.
“Seven [turnovers] in the final 2:26. It’s got to be bad coaching,” Izzo said. “Even a player can’t do that, so I’ll take some blame for that and we’ll try to do a better job.
“I guess there’s no way that I shouldn’t take some of the blame for that, because press offense looked just ridiculous. We haven’t been pressed much, so I’m going to take a little bit of that and find a way to be positive about the situation.”
That Danny Manning was the first opposing coach wise enough to put the squeeze on the Spartans this season is a bit shocking, because he surely won’t be the last.
Michigan State is 274th nationally in turnover percentage, coughing it up on 19.9% of possessions. Only 3 other Izzo teams have turned it over at a higher rate. All were eliminated in the second round of the NCAA tourney.
Michigan State’s B1G ‘if’
There are plenty of things the Spartans did well Thursday, as you’d expect of a team that spends 37:56 of the game in the lead.
When Michigan State wasn’t turning the ball over, it was making its shots. The Spartans were 50% from the field, including a sizzling 57% in the first half.
The nation’s 6th-best 3-point shooting team continued that trend as well, drilling 7 of 11 from long-distance.
Freshman Max Christie, whom the Spartans have been waiting on to start clicking, finally did click against the Terrapins. His 16 points were the most he’s scored since doing so against Michigan on Jan. 29.
Christie has contributed as a defender and rebounder, but showed the offense to go with it Thursday.
When things like that happen, it’s easy to believe this could be another Michigan State postseason run in the making.
“When I got those rebounds and played as best defense as I could, I think that settled me in nice and easy,” Christie said. “And then you combine that with the made shots, I think that’s a good combination you can have. Especially in March.”
It certainly is.
But the turnovers that have bedeviled this team all season don’t look like they’re going away. And it’s going to be incredibly difficult to overcome that problem.
Izzo himself knows that’s the case moving forward.
“We played 85% good,” Izzo said. “85 in this league, or in this tournament, or the next tournament, is not good enough.”