| The Detroit News
Almost two days after Michigan State’s stunning second-half collapse against Purdue, the sting has yet to fade away.
Giving up a 17-point lead with 19 minutes to play is tough enough to deal with, but the lasting effect could be even more critical for the Spartans. Instead of riding a three-game winning streak and likely moving up in the national rankings, Michigan State is trying to come up with a way to regroup while staring at a five-game stretch to close the month of January that will be no picnic.
There was a multitude of reasons for the Spartans’ 55-54 loss to the Boilermakers. Yes, there was the choice to play small for most of the final eight minutes that backfired on coach Tom Izzo as Purdue’s Trevion Williams scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half, including the winning jumper with 4.5 seconds to play.
But add in the 10 second-half turnovers along with the fact Michigan State shot just 4-for-18 in the second half and missed four free throws in the final six minutes, and it created a recipe for deflating defeat, one that clearly had affected the Spartans in the moments after the game.
“It’s gonna eat at everybody tonight,” said junior Aaron Henry, who’s running jumper at the buzzer misfired. “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. I’m anxious to see it.”
What’s next will have to begin with how to fix what happened on Friday. It’s easy to point to some of the issues, but getting them straightened out is a different question. Turnovers have plagued this team all season and the offense has disappeared at times like it did in the second half against the Boilermakers.
Michigan State has made a shift at point guard, moving freshman A.J. Hoggard into the starting lineup, and generally, it has been a good move. But the Spartans are still struggling for consistency from the likes of Rocket Watts, Joshua Langford, Joey Hauser and Gabe Brown.
Even as the offense struggles, the defense has started to come around, something that gives Michigan State a glimpse of confidence moving forward. On Friday night, Izzo said the defense was “phenomenal,” holding Purdue to 33% shooting and 12.5% from 3-point range.
“We can’t play much harder than we played, but playing hard is only part of the job,” Izzo said. “You have to play hard, you have to play good, you have to play smart. You know, the turnovers have been a problem in the last two games and I knew Purdue was going to come at us. But our turnovers (in the second half) weren’t caused by their defense, as much as they were caused by some foolish plays.”
Life in the Big Ten does not allow much space to figure things out. Up next for Michigan State (8-4, 2-4 Big Ten) is a trip to No. 5 Iowa followed by a home game on Sunday with Indiana. After that, the Spartans host No. 12 Illinois, travel to No. 15 Rutgers and close the month at Ohio State. All five teams are in the top 40 in the nation according to the rankings at Kenpom.com.
“I’m not worried about the mental makeup,” Izzo said of his team. “I’m worried about the schedule. It doesn’t get any easier. But I’m not worried about the mental makeup. This team is not lost. It’s all good.”
The veterans on the team feel the same way.
Henry said as much in his comments and Langford, who has seen his share of adversity, isn’t about to give up with 14 more Big Ten games to be played.
“There is 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 should stay encouraged and there’s no need to put our heads down.
“But like I said, the loss does hurt, especially losing like that. It’s tough. We had the lead but at the end of the day, man, we just have to learn and just keep moving forward.”
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