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Notes & Quotes: Tom Izzo says “We won’t play like this again”

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Izzo says the team may have had a little bit of a “COVID hangover,” but will not use that as an excuse for the poor performance against Rutgers.

Michigan State v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

There is no other way to say it: the Michigan State Spartans were embarrassed by the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Thursday night. Rutgers, a team the Spartans defeated by 23 points earlier this season and had never lost to in program history entering yesterday’s game, thoroughly beat down Michigan State by a final score of 67-37.

“You know, I’ll be disappointed, yeah, easy opening statement,” Izzo said. “I didn’t know what we’d do (following the long layoff), and I thought we started out like I hoped not to, but I thought that’s the way it was.”

Izzo went how to say how Michigan State actually had some good looks from the field, but the shots weren’t falling, as Joshua Langford made just one shot on eight attempts and Malik Hall made just one shot on six attempts. Every Spartan struggled from the floor, as the team shot just 16-for-56 (28.6 percent) and no player made more than three field goals.

In addition to the offensive struggles, Izzo said the defensive effort wasn’t good enough, either. While Izzo said the team “wasn’t great” defensively, he also said it “wasn’t bad,” as Rutgers only scored 67 points despite Michigan State giving the ball away 21 times. Speaking of turnovers, Izzo pointed to those as a big reason for the team’s pitiful performance.

“(Rutgers) did a great job defensively and we did a poor job,” Izzo said. “But, you (give up) 33 points off of turnovers, that’s a big part of the game. You have 21 turnovers, and even coming out of halftime, the first three possessions (of the first half) were turnover, turnover, turnover. So we didn’t do a very good job, and that falls on me.”

Izzo understands the struggles and challenges the three-week pause and COVID issues throughout the program have caused, but he will not use that as an excuse for the way Michigan State performed against Rutgers.

“I’m sure we have a little COVID hangover, I understand that, but that will not be an excuse for the way we played,” Izzo said. “That would be a good excuse for losing a game, but not the way we played.”

Still, there was an obvious lag in energy and struggles on both ends of the court for the Spartans. This can probably be expected when the Spartans weren’t able to practice as a team for a couple weeks and players are still recovering from the virus. Izzo conceded that perhaps he played Langford — who recently tested positive for COVID-19 — too many minutes. As mentioned above, Langford struggled, shooting 12.5 percent from the field, with three points, one rebound, one steal and three turnovers.

“We didn’t do the things I thought we could do,” Izzo said. “Is it because some of those guys didn’t practice at all? Is it because we just did a poor job? Or is because Rutgers played well? Rutgers deserves some credit, Steve (Pikiell) is a great coach, and they did a good job.”

No matter the reason for the team’s play, it is of the utmost importance for the Spartans to rebound and get better moving forward. A performance like last night’s against Rutgers simply cannot happen again, as Michigan State’s NCAA Tournament hopes continue to become slimmer.

“We won’t play like this again, as far as turning the ball over, I promise you that,” Izzo said. “Those are the frustrating things that frustrate fans, frustrate coaches, frustrate players. But I’m trying to keep it all in perspective a little bit. This was a wicked 20 days, some people adjust to it, just depends who your personnel is.”

Perhaps the one positive from the night was junior center Marcus Bingham Jr. While his statistics don’t jump off the page in any one category, Bingham was all over the place and his energy was easily the best on the team. Bingham played 19 minutes and finished with four points (making two shots on six attempts), seven rebounds, one assist, one steal and two blocks. Izzo, who has taken notice of Bingham in practice recently, liked what he saw from the big man on Thursday night.

“Marcus, first half, was our best player,” Izzo said. “He did some things that he needed to do, and he’s been just great...he’s really starting to do some things well.”

Meanwhile, Izzo called out himself, Langford, Joey Hauser and Rocket Watts as people who need to do better moving forward. He said that Aaron Henry has “been great” as a leader for the team.

Speaking of Henry, he refused to let the COVID layoff be an excuse for how the team played against Rutgers. As a leader and team captain, he put the loss on himself.

“Personally, I put this on me,” Aaron Henry said. “From a leadership standpoint, from my role on the team, it had nothing to do with 20 days off. It had nothing to do with the time we missed. It’s a mental approach and honestly it starts with me. Just the intensity and the intangible things just weren’t there. Our shots didn’t fall. It’s Big Ten basketball, man, a lot of shots aren’t gonna fall for a lot of teams, it’s who competes the hardest, and tonight we didn’t compete. I’ll take responsibility for that.”

Henry went on to call out himself and his teammates in terms of effort, energy and heart. He again wanted to make sure to shoulder most of the blame, though.

“It’s a question of our ticker,” Henry said. “It’s not a question of getting shots up or understanding things. It’s attention to details, like I said, it’s the intangible things. It’s a question of our heart. Are we going to rebound and defend? Are we going to run? Are we going to follow the scouting report? It’s just how basketball works, and we have to do those things and the rest will follow after that. If we have another approach like that, like we did (tonight), I’ll say it again, it starts with me. And if we do that again, it’ll just be ugly.

“I’m sure we’ll find our way, I’m sure,” Henry added. “I’m not letting that happen that we don’t, but tonight, it’s on me, it’s on me.”

Rutgers opened the game on a 15-0 run, and Michigan State had to play catch up the whole game. While the Spartans eventually closed the gap, and trailed by only six points at halftime, the team only scored 17 points in the second half.

Sophomore forward Malik Hall said the initial run Rutgers went on to start the game was inexcusable. Hall also echoed some of Henry’s comments, saying he “sensed” that the team didn’t come out with enough energy or heart.

“That can never happen,” Hall said about giving up a 15-0 run to begin the game. “From that point, we’re playing catch-up the whole game. It shouldn’t be like that.

“We just lost all our energy and we didn’t come out strong enough or physical enough,” Hall said. “And they punked us.”


Tom Izzo Post-Game Remarks

Aaron Henry Post-Game Remarks