With 1:37 to play, MSU led by four, and Gary Harris went to the free-throw line with a chance to extend MSU's lead to five points. He missed the first and made the second, making it a 67-63 game.
Christian Watford made a runner plus a free throw back down the court. With a chance to extend the lead back to three, Keith Appling misses the front end of a one-and-one. Yogi Ferrell misses a layup for Indiana, but Victor Oladipo rises unimpeded to tip the ball in and give IU a one-point lead.
After a travel on Derrick Nix goes uncalled, Harris is whacked on a drive, but no foul is called. Indiana ball, Harris loses Oladipo on the inbound, and he goes in for a dunk to put IU up three. But MSU gets bailed out by a questionable foul as Harris shoots a three in the final seconds. Harris misses the first free throw, makes the second, misses the third on purpose, but MSU can't get the rebound. Two free throws from Oladipo put the game away. A 72-68 win for Indiana.
MSU was 4-1 in Big Ten games decided by five points or less entering today. You can't win them all. And the difference between winning them and losing them are clutch plays down the stretch. MSU didn't make them Tuesday. By the way, the two losses are both to Indiana.
As bad as MSU seemed to play all night, they led the No. 1 team with less than two minutes to go. All is not lost — yet.
All game long, it seemed MSU was never quite in-sync, even when they took the lead in the second half. As good as the pick-and-roll defense was against Michigan, it was that bad against Indiana, who went around the pick and went wide, forcing switches and mismatches all over the place. Indiana went 8-for-18 from three-point range, and it seemed every one was wide open where an MSU big man got lost.
Seeing that Indiana shot just 44.3 percent is odd, as it seemed MSU could rarely put two stops together, but the eFG% is a little more telling.
That's a 50.8 eFG%, thanks to the three-point shooting. MSU's percentage was close, but MSU went 4-for-15 from three. MSU held on to the ball pretty well, just an 18.2 TO%, got to the free-throw line much higher and had a slight edge in rebounding. Watching the game, it was hard to figure out why MSU kept it so close, but the stats show why. Still, as a team, MSU went 16-for-22 on free throws not counting the miss on purpose. The three-point shooting and point guard play were probably the big differences between the teams. Still, MSU couldn't hold on to a two-possession lead with less than two minutes left.
It was the little things MSU was beat on. They completely bobbled away two defensive rebounds that eventually led to five Indiana points. They missed several layups that would have been and-1 opportunities. They couldn't make the extra plays they had made for much of the season.
Indiana led for most of the first half. It got as high as eight points, but the Hoosiers were never able to pull away. MSU seemed lucky to be trailing just 36-30 at the break. The trend continued through the first five minutes of the second half, and you wondered if MSU would ever get it going, though they weren't out of it. But a 7-0 run that was fueled by defense (block from Matt Costello, steal from Harris) gave MSU its first lead since the opening minutes.
The Hoosiers responded with an 9-2 run, and MSU was in the danger zone, trailing by six with just under 10 minutes to play. MSU recovered, taking a one-point lead with 6:30 to go. No team would lead by more than one until MSU extended the lead to three with 2:37 left. The Spartans unraveled the rest of the way.
Oladipo continued to show why he's the best player in the Big Ten, and perhaps the nation: 19 points, 7-for-11 shooting, nine rebounds, five steals. He was everywhere, and he can do everything. Coming into tonight, Cody Zeller had scored double-figures in 54 of 62 career games, but had done it just once in three game against MSU. He took advantage of his midrange game to finish with 17 points on 7-for-16 shooting with five rebounds and two blocks. Far from elite, but he was still effective, even as he and Nix traded crotch shots. (No excuses for Nix's retaliation. Zeller sold it, but there's no need for that).
Jordan Hulls hit half of Indiana's 3s, going 4-for-6 from deep, while Christian Watford also chipped in 12 points. Indiana got just six points from its bench, but was still able to fight out a win.
When we found out Ted Valentine was doing this game, we all sighed. And it played out exactly as we expected. Inconsistent officiating both ways, an absurd number of makeup calls and random play stoppages slowing things down whenever there was some flow. It wasn't the reason MSU lost, it was just extremely frustrating as a fan of the game of basketball.
-- The story of the game for MSU was Keith Appling, or the lack thereof. After sitting because of foul trouble in the first meeting, this was his chance to make amends. Instead, he scored six points on 1-for-8 shooting, including 0-for-4 from three with two assists and four turnovers. His defense was also quite questionable, as he was beat to the hoop on some drives again by the Hoosiers. The arc on his 3 again is different every time. Without a deep threat from him, MSU's offense becomes even more limited. He'd been clutch down the stretch this season, but couldn't do it Tuesday.
- MSU's player of the game was Payne, who did deal with foul trouble. He finished with 17 points 6-for-8 shooting, including 3-for-3 from deep. He also had seven rebounds, though none came on the offensive end, and two blocks. That was just in 25 minutes, as he missed time in the first due to some reckless fouls, then some in the second because he fouled Watford's arm with his head. The call was so ridiculous that Watford was given a technical on the play after a review.
- Gary Harris was MSU's leading scorer with 19 points, despite going just 1-for-5 from 3. He was driving to the hoop a lot, going 5-for-8 on 2s and 6-for-8 from the free-throw line (not counting the miss on purpose). He also had three steals. It sucks he missed the free throws at the end to tie it, but it's hard to ask any more of Harris, whom Izzo said was injured on the first play of the second half. The tape shows it may be a shoulder thing, but he obviously stayed in and played well.
- Nix did a lot of talking leading up to this one, and kind of backed it up. He struggled for much of the game, and MSU wasn't able to get it into him in the first half. But in the second, he played stronger, finishing with eight points on 4-for-8 shooting for the game with five rebounds (two offensive). It took Zeller 16 shots to get 17 points.
- For the second straight game, Branden Dawson seemed to disappear. He scored eight points on 4-for-8 shooting, but only had four rebounds (two offensive), had three turnovers (often steals by Oladipo) and played spotty defense on Oladipo. If MSU can get little out of Appling and Dawson and take No. 1 to the wire, that would be a good thing, but they need Dawson to get back to his consistent and energetic form.
- Denzel Valentine continued to play well, finishing with six points on 2-for-6 shooting with seven rebounds (four offensive!), three assists, two blocks and just one turnover, along with pretty good defense. He got playing time over Dawson down the stretch, and he deserved it.
- Travis Trice finally made his return. Tom Izzo said in the pregame Trice would only play in an emergency, but appeared in the first half. He finished 0-for-3 from the field with a rebound, an assist and a steal in six minutes. He wasn't great, but the fact he was able to play is a good sign moving forward.
- Matt Costello continues to play well any time he's out there. He finished with two rebounds, an assist, three blocks and a steal in eight minutes of play. He was actually put in the game for defense down the stretch, a sign of confidence from Izzo.
All is not lost. Again, MSU was a few plays away from knocking off No. 1, so how upset can you be? But now it's in the past, and the Spartans need to bounce back right away. Next up are road games at Ohio State and Michigan. Lose those, and all of a sudden MSU is fighting for a top-four seed in the Big Ten; forget about a No. 1 seed in the NCAA. This is MSU's toughest four-game stretch of the season. They almost got the first, but now the importance of the next three goes up big time.
MSU has won 32 of the last 34 at Breslin, but the two losses likely ended MSU's hopes for an outright Big Ten title each time. A shared title isn't out of reach this season, but MSU will probably have to win out against a still-tough schedule, including two very tough road games.
There are positives moving forward. Trice is back, Valentine continues to play well and Costello becomes more and more reliable. But the danger now is that MSU can't let this one loss become two or three and slide down the rankings and seeding.