Michigan State looked like a team that had not played in three weeks. The Spartans also looked like a team that was unable to find any answers during their long layoff. The same problems that plagued MSU before the COVID issues, were the same problems the team had tonight in a 67-37 loss to Rutgers.
MSU started both halves of this game by putting themselves in a 15 point hole. Turnovers and poor defense were the main culprits, but what remains true is that the starting lineup has just not gotten the job done.
The Spartans need their best players to be their best players, and that hasn’t happened very much. Aaron Henry, Rocket Watts, and Joey Hauser all struggled again, and the Spartans cannot win when that happens. The trio combined for just 17 points on 8-for-22 (36.3 percent) shooting and zero three-pointers on seven attempts.
Marcus Bingham Jr. provided a spark in the first half, especially with his defense. Rutgers bigs were able to get whatever they wanted against Thomas Kithier and Joey Hauser, but Bingham’s size caused some problems and the Spartans were able to claw their way back into the game.
At one point late in the first half MSU was within three points after starting the game down 15-0. The Spartans finished the half down six, which felt like a win considering the bad start.
Then the second half started just like the first and any hope of a comeback faded away with each additional turnover. MSU finished the game with a season high 21 turnovers, six of them by Henry alone.
The shooting woes continued for the Spartans as well, who shot just 28.6 percent from the field and 20 percent from the three-point line. MSU managed just 17 points in the second half. The 37 total points were the fewest scored by an Michigan State team since 2008.
There honestly aren’t really any good answers for Michigan State at this point. The team continues to go through extended scoring droughts, the defense only shows up occasionally, and your best players have not been very good.
Somewhere, somehow, this team needs to figure out the right combination. This goes beyond just the right lineup and substitution combinations, although that is certainly part of it. It needs to find the right combination of effort and intensity for an entire game. It needs to find the right shot selections. It needs to find an identity. And it needs to find it soon.
Otherwise we are looking at the NCAA Tournament streak ending, the season after the entire tournament was canceled. Considering how well MSU was playing when COVID hit last March, it makes the current struggles all the harder to deal with.
The season is not over, far from it, but answers need to be found, and quickly. The next two games for the Spartans are against top-15 opponents in Ohio State and Iowa. If they can’t right the ship in a hurry, the Spartans are looking at another three game losing streak, or worse.