Saturday afternoon’s contest with the Iowa Hawkeyes presented a chance for Michigan State to show that progress was being made. It was a chance to pick up a desperately needed win over a ranked Big Ten team. Instead, MSU’s shooting woes continued, and the red-hot Hawkeyes dominated the Spartans by a final score 88-58. It was the most lopsided home loss in Tom Izzo’s coaching career.
Coach Izzo opened the postgame press conference by simply saying, “I am embarrassed. That was a poor performance.” He went on the mostly blame himself for the loss.
“Today was an ambush,” Izzo said. “It’s one game. It’s not good...No excuses. The blame should go on me and solely on me and not on them (the players).”
As for the reasons for the loss, Izzo did not seem to have many answers, but a word that kept coming up was “energy,” or the lack thereof from MSU’s players on Saturday.
“I did not think that my team was ready in the first half...I did not think that we played with the same energy that we played with in the last two games...I just need to do a better job,” Izzo said.
The lack of energy seemed to impact the Spartans both on the offensive and defensive ends. Izzo commented that he sat Aaron Henry for a long stretch of the first half due to a lack of energy. Once he returned, he played a lot better.
On the offensive end, Coach Izzo implied that when you don’t practice for 17 days, shooting is impacted. Furthermore, “Everyone slumps a little when you are getting your butt kicked.”
At times, it seemed that some MSU players were a bit hesitant to shoot at all. But, when Coach Izzo was asked about that, he pushed back. “I think some guys were casting shots when we were making a little run a couple different times. We took a few bad shots.” That said, it was the Spartan’s defense and the fact that they gave up 88 points that was bigger reason that the team lost.
Guard Luka Garza or Guard the Arc?
One of the lone bright spots on Saturday was that the Spartans held All-American Luka Garza to only eight points on 3-for-11 shooting. The problem was that Iowa’s guards lit up the Spartans with 13-of-25 shooting from three (52 percent). There was quite a bit of discussion in the postgame press conference about whether this was an intentional strategy or not.
When captain Josh Langford was asked about it, he implied that the onslaught of threes “was more of a player error in terms of our effort,” as opposed to a scouting report error. Coach Izzo seemed to agree. In fact, Coach Izzo even implied that he fed information to the press that MSU was going to double Garza more in an attempt to provide misinformation to the Iowa staff.
“I said that I was going to throw the kitchen sink at him because I knew that you guys would write it and hopefully they would think a little different, but I didn’t do anything different than I did the other game.” Izzo went on to say, “we did a poor job of guarding.”
Langford added, “We had a lot of boneheaded mistakes.” Gabe Brown agreed “our defense just wasn’t there today...we did not connect very well on defense and they hit shots.”
Izzo also pointed out on several occasions in the press conference that many of Iowa’s players simply hit shots that they usually do not make. Garza, Jordan Bohannon and Wieskamp are all close to or over 40 percent three-point shooters on the year, but they accounted for less than half of the Hawkeyes made three-pointers. It was the additional seven treys from Keegan Murray (only 12 made threes on the year), Connor McCaffery (33 percent on the year) and Jack Nunge (under 30 percent for the year) that made it a tough day for the MSU defense.
Gabe Brown Rounding Back into Shape
Perhaps the only other bright spot on Saturday was the play of junior wing/forward Gabe Brown, who pitched in a team-high 15 points and hit three treys of his own. Coach Izzo commented that while Brown struggled early in the game “once he got his sea legs under him, that was an encouraging part of the day....He looked like a guy who really wanted to play.”
Coach Izzo mentioned that Brown had told him that it was the best that he had felt since he returned from COVID-19. This is a similar trajectory to what Langford experienced, according to Izzo.
“I was pleased with Gabe because he came in hungry to play and that is really all that we are asking for right now,” Izzo said. “He did it, so hopefully his minutes will keep going up.”
When Gabe Brown was asked about his apparent hunger to play in the postgame press conference, Gabe said, “It is about just wanting to compete...I love basketball with everything in me...energy rubs off on everybody, so if I am out there crashing the glass, rebounding, doing something right, then the next player is going to do it, and then it just keeps on going.”
The Spartans now stand at just 4-8 in Big Ten play (10-8 overall) with up to eight games left on the schedule. MSU will almost certainly need to win half of those remaining games just to be in the conversation for an NCAA at-large bid. Coach Izzo, Langford, and Brown all had something to say about what needs to be done.
Gabe Brown said, “It is time for us to recollect.” Brown also mentioned the need to watch more film, talk to the coaches, and to get back to practicing. Brown added, “It’s not over yet. We are still fighting. We still believe that we can make this run and we are going to.”
As for Coach Izzo, he said, “We know what our goal is and what we have to do. There are so many games we have to win and we have eight left to do that.” He continued, “We are just going to keep finding the guys that want to play at the same level.” Izzo also said he will continue to work through it and meet with each guy to “find where their head are.”
But it was Langford who had the most to say on this topic: “This is a different year. We are all just trying to find our way...We just have to rally together as a family, because that is what we are as Spartans. We just have to put our heads down and roll our sleeves up and just try to find a way.”
Langford went on to add: “We don’t have time to hang our heads...We still have a chance to try to do some things...We need to have a next play and a next game mindset.” He went on to say, “We have to find a way. We have to bite down. This is where we will truly see what kind of team we have.”
Langford also explained that while Coach Izzo gets results, he is a process-oriented person who emphasizes that the players need to do their job and that if they do that, good things will happen. “This is not the time to be throwing in the towel. I am not throwing in the towel and I don’t think that my teammate and my coaches are throwing in the towel. Nobody is giving up. That’s not what we do at Michigan State.”
Other News and Notes:
Sophomore guard Rocket Watts did not play in the second half and was not visible on the sidelines. Coach Izzo commented during the press conference that Rocket was complaining about his stomach earlier in the day and that it seemed to get worse at halftime.
At that point, Watts was removed for the team and placed into COVID protocol quarantine, pending further PCR testing. This is very similar to what was done with Thomas Kithier during the Nebraska game. Coach Izzo confirmed that Watts did test negative for COVID on Saturday morning, but that he might be out for a couple of days.
The Spartans will resume action on Tuesday night at Purdue. The game is set to tip at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN. Until next time, Go Green.