If it wasn’t already, the Michigan State Spartans’ season is on life support. MSU was defeated by the Purdue Boilermakers by a final score of 75-65. The loss dropped the Spartans to 10-9 overall and 4-9 in Big Ten play.
Michigan State fought hard, but couldn’t overcome poor shooting to begin the game and mental mistakes down the stretch in the second half. A lack of options at the point guard position and poor free-throw shooting (12-for-18, 66.7 percent) also didn’t help matters for the Spartans.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo spoke with the media following the game.
Tom Izzo speaking now:— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) February 17, 2021
“I’ll tell you what, we find ways to lose games, we don’t find ways to win games.”
“Well, I’ll tell you, we find ways to lose games instead of finding ways to win games,” Izzo said.
Izzo went on to say that junior point guard Foster Loyer was in a position where he couldn’t practice and he couldn’t work out because of a shoulder injury, but he thought he could go last night. Loyer did not play in the second half due to due the injury. Izzo later mentioned that Loyer will likely need to have surgery on his shoulder after the season ends.
Meanwhile, sophomore guard Rocket Watts, who left after the first half of the Iowa game on Saturday, was still feeling sick earlier in the day, but tried to play through it. Watts struggled last night, scoring zero points in 12 minutes and missing all three of his shot attempts. He did have four assists.
Overall, Izzo liked the fight his team showed for much of the night, but conceded that the Spartans just didn’t do enough to win.
“We fought, we did a lot of good things, had some plays, the ball just didn’t bounce our way,” Izzo said. “Give (Purdue) credit. They found a way to win.”
Izzo said that a big reason why mistakes are happening with the Spartans, especially late in games, is because the team has struggled to find a true answer at point guard this season, and that once again hurt MSU against Purdue. With Loyer dealing with an injury, Watts continuing to struggle and true freshman A.J. Hoggard having his ups and downs, Izzo said he should have just put the ball in the hands of Aaron Henry or Josh Langford in clutch situations.
Izzo praised the play of sophomore Julius Marble, junior Aaron Henry and freshman Mady Sissoko. Henry scored 15 points and was a leader for the team. Marble scored 10 points and was a catalyst for the Spartans in the second half. But one of the bigger question marks about this game about Sissoko was why didn’t he play in the second half? The true freshman scored five points and grabbed four rebounds in the first half. Izzo was asked specifically about Sissoko’s playing time.
Izzo says the reason that Mady Sissoko didn’t play much in the second half because of the way Marble was playing. He says Sissoko played well, and will play more moving forward.— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) February 17, 2021
“(Sissoko didn’t play) just because of the way Marble (played in the second half,)” Izzo said. “But you’re right, it’s a good question. Mady’s one of my favorite guys. What he does is, he has some energy and that’s the disappointing part about going with different people and nobody really stepping up. Mady was not in a position to step up because of all (the time) he missed in high school and all the summer. Then we started playing him seven, eight, 10, I think we played him 12 minutes in one game and then he gets COVID. It’s so hard for a freshman, especially one like him who doesn’t pick up things as well just because his background. But he’s gonna play more, I promise you that, because he did do some good things.”
Izzo also added that MSU “switched some things” up and that was a little more difficult for Sissoko to grasp, which was another reason why he wasn’t on the court in the second half. Additionally, Izzo mentioned that the 17 or 20 days Sissoko missed due to COVID hurt his development, and that Sissoko went down from 230 pounds to 213 pounds due to the virus. But Izzo was pleased with the overall play of the freshman center.
The performance level of the 2020-2021 Michigan State basketball team has been uncharacteristically low compared to past Tom Izzo-coached teams. After starting the non-conference season 6-0, the Spartans have won just four of the team’s past 13 games. When asked about the brand and culture of MSU basketball, Izzo made it clear that he isn’t worried about the national perception of Michigan State. What he is worried about is his team and its culture and leadership.
Izzo: "I got a million excuses ... but I know what's going on. We gave a hell of an effort tonight. We made some mistakes. ... I'm not worried about brand."— Matt Charboneau (@mattcharboneau) February 17, 2021
“If that’s the case on one average year, and it probably is these days, but I’m not worried about (brand),” Izzo said. “I’m worried about the culture of a team because I don’t think you have as many leaders that develop the culture and pass it on, and that’s what I told Aaron (Henry) and Josh (Langford). But, like I said, Josh wasn’t with us for two years. Listen, I got a million excuses, and I don’t really give a damn what anybody thinks publicly as far as some of that because I know what’s going on, I know what we went through last night. We gave a hell of an effort tonight, we made some mistakes.
“I’m not worried about our brand. I’m not worried about Michigan State. I’m not worried about the tournament. I’m worried about getting my team better, and I’m worried about teaching guys how to play when it’s hard to tell them they did anything wrong because in our frickin society right now, that’s a no-no. So that’s what I’m a little upset with, but nothing else. I’m pleased with a lot of the things we did.”
Izzo knows this year hasn’t been easy, and that it’s been frustrating for him, his team, the fans, the media and all involved. He mentioned how deep the Big Ten Conference is, and how COVID-19 has hit his program so hard, and that the virus affects people differently, as big reasons why this season has been so hard to navigate through.
“It’s been tough to navigate, it’s been tough because of the number of good teams (in the Big Ten),” Izzo said. “Saturday (losing to Iowa at home by 30 points), I couldn’t stomach. I can stomach today, I can stomach these games, I can stomach our game at Iowa. We’re not winning games that bother me, but other teams have probably better teams than we are right now. We gotta find a way to win.”
After another tough loss, and with the team’s NCAA Tournament hopes looking even more bleak, the Spartans are just going to need to fight through it the best they can, and hope to make a run.
“We’re just gonna have to keep battling, and that’s what we’re gonna do,” Izzo said.
Aaron Henry also spoke to the media. He’s not yet ready to give up on his team.
Aaron Henry speaking to the media:— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) February 17, 2021
“Ain’t nothing gonna change with me...I’m gonna always push my guys,” Henry says about the rest of the season.
“It ain’t nothing gonna change with me, it ain’t gonna stop with me,” Henry said. “I’m gonna always push my guys and no matter who’s having the worst night, I’m gonna always try to pick his head up and ask him to carry on. Because it’s times like these, these times don’t last forever. Basketball’s a game, you know, it’s just a small part of our lives. Through this, and we’re so dedicated to it, so we have to try to learn in moments like these, and when adversity hits us, we care so much about the game, you gotta look at the big picture. Things aren’t pretty right now, we’re supposed to win games, but it’s how we respond. We’ll be able to think about times back like this in life like “When times weren’t good, did we continue to fight or did we just fold?’ It’s habits, not just on the court, but it’s habits off the court that we gotta continue to grow.”
Henry knows his teammates are willing to continue to fight with him. If not, he doesn’t want anybody out there with him who is ready to throw in the towel.
“I wouldn’t let anybody on the court that still doesn’t wanna fight,” Henry said.