For a stretch Sunday, it felt like Michigan State may struggle to keep within 20 points against Purdue. Unfortunately, even after a furious comeback, the Boilermakers were just too much for MSU, giving the Spartans their first conference loss of the season.
In the blink of an eye, MSU trailed by double-digits in the first half. They went to halftime scoring a measly 19 points and down by 18. The Spartans had the never-enviable combination of terrible shooting, tired defense and a short bench. Both Kyle Ahrens and Joshua Langford again missed the game due to injuries, giving a heavier load to freshman Gabe Brown and Aaron Henry. It wasn’t exactly a coming-out party for either young wing.
Eight minutes into the second half, the Boilermakers lead was stretched to 23 points. But at the lowest point of the season for MSU, the team’s biggest star made things a lot more exciting.
Cassius Winston, who had been the focus of Purdue’s defensive attack all game long, found his legs and willed the Spartans back into the game. The junior point guard converted on a four-point-play, and led a Michigan State on a 24-5 run, with 21 points either scored or assisted by Winston. The flurry brought the Spartans to within four points, 56-60, the closest MSU had been since the 18:27 mark in the first half.
Unfortunately, that was as close as the Spartans would get. Izzo attempted to make Purdue’s Nojel Eastern beat MSU from the free throw line, and the 50-percent free-throw-shooter did just that, making six in a row from the charity stripe. That happened at the same time the MSU offense lost its touch and put together multiple empty possessions in the final four-plus minutes, scoring just four points during that stretch.
While a team in Michigan State’s position should never accept moral victories, the road loss shouldn’t be a complete surprise. Sunday was the third game this week for MSU, the first two coming against ranked teams in Maryland at home and Iowa on the road. A loss is never a good thing, but this one likely won’t hurt the Spartans’ overall ranking or NCAA Tournament positioning much.
Purdue ended a 21-game regular season Big Ten win-streak for Michigan State and a 13-game overall win-streak. The Spartans will now get a much-needed break in action, not returning to the court until Saturday against the struggling Indiana Hoosiers in East Lansing.
Winston finished the game with a game-high 23 points, along with eight assists and seven rebounds. Matt McQuaid added 12 points of his own, with Kenny Goins scoring six points with seven rebounds and Xavier Tillman scoring seven points off the bench. Nick Ward scored nine points and swatted two shots, helping MSU to eight team blocks. Henry, Brown and Thomas Kithier, the only other players to see the floor, combined for six points on 2-10 shooting.