Unfortunately, the basketball season for the Michigan State Spartans is over. The Spartans lead by as many as 14 points late in the first half, and by five point with 90 seconds remaining. But a series of mistakes, fouls, and empty possessions led to a 14-to-3 run by the Bruins in the closing seconds of regular and the overtime session. As a result, the Spartans fell to UCLA by a score of 86-80.
What Went Wrong?
In the postgame press conference, Tom Izzo opened by expressing his disappointment.
“We had the game won,” Izzo said. “And we made some of the same mistakes we’ve made two or three times this year in critical situations.” He later added, “You just can’t make the same mistakes over and over and over again. And that falls on me. We gotta do a better job of figuring out how to cut out or what to do or not turn the ball over, take a bad shot.”
In general, offense was not the problem for most of the evening. At times the ball movement was as good as it has been all season. Coach Izzo said, “I thought we played incredibly well offensively...that first half and part of the second we moved the ball so well and really played really good basketball.”
But as the game wore on, the Spartans’ efficiency seemed to trail off.
“We just didn’t execute as well as we should have done down the stretch,” Izzo said. “We were moving the ball, then we got stagnant and quit moving the ball...it got a little disjointed.”
As for the reasons why, Coach Izzo mostly pointed to fatigue as a key factor. The Spartans endured a brutal stretch run of the Big Ten season, and Coach Izzo clearly mentioned following the loss to Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament that he was unsure how much juice this team had left. The team did seem to run out of gas late, after the clock struck midnight, against a team from the West Coast.
“I think we played Aaron (Henry) so much he was just run down,” Izzo said. “Josh (Langford) was hurt a little bit at halftime. And we just kind of grinded both those guys and just didn’t have enough legs.” He added later, “We were running out of gas a little bit. And we had some matchup problems because they went really small for a while and we didn’t handle that real well either.”
Ultimately, though, it was the defensive end where the Spartans’ seemed to struggle the most. Missed switched and missed box-outs plagued the Spartans all evening, including a crucial one on a UCLA free throw miss with under 40 seconds to play in regulation which led to a second foul and a tying three-point play.
To this point, Josh Langford said, “We knew that the margin of error for us is very slim, so those small mistakes, we knew we couldn’t have those, and we still had them.” He added later, “We just didn’t stick to our principles. We didn’t follow the scouting report as good as we should have.”
Despite the many errors, Coach Izzo felt that many of his players did give tremendous effort. Coach Izzo said, “I’d like to say for Joshua Langford, you know, unbelievable year. I mean, the kid gave me every single thing he had.”
Coach went on to say, “I had some guys that played their tails off. Gabe Brown was one of them. Marcus Bingham was one of them. We really played extremely, extremely hard, but we just didn’t make the plays that mattered.”
The Gabe Brown Incident
As the Spartans were heading into the locker room for halftime, the camera captured an exchange between Malik Hall and Gabe Brown who seemed to have miscommunicated on a switch on the Bruins final possession which resulted in a buzzer-beating long two-point basket.
On the way off the court, Coach Izzo and Brown exchanged words and Izzo even tugged on Brown’s jersey on the way to the locker room. This exchange then became a focus of the discussion during the TBS halftime show, similar to the discussion surrounding an exchange that Coach Izzo had with then freshman Aaron Henry during the first round of the 2019 Tournament.
Even former Spartans chimed in about the incident on social media. Draymond Green had this to say:
Typical Michigan State exchange... move on RELAX!— Draymond Green (@Money23Green) March 19, 2021
When Coach Izzo was asked about the incident in the postgame press conference, he started by giving what can only be described as an “annoyed chuckle.” Then he said this:
“You guys (the media) are beautiful. He missed a play and I told him. He walked away and I told him to come back. We went through this a couple of years ago. A game like that, that’s the question you’re going to ask me? I guess I’ll answer it because the media has the right to ask whatever question.
“But we’ll get him in here and you can ask him,” Izzo added. “It was a normal nothing. It’s just that this day and age everything is something. It was over a missed switch that we had talked about.”
Final Thoughts From Josh Langford and Tom Izzo
As this was the final game of the season, both Coach Izzo and Josh Langford shared with the media some of their final thoughts. For Langford, he also made it pretty clear that he had played his final game in a Spartan uniform and was planning to move on.
“It’s a lot of emotions right now,” Langford said. “I’m really upset that we lost. Definitely, as a competitor that I’ve always been and how much potential I see in this team, it definitely hurts that we lose, but we talk about individually, I have no reason to hang my head. I feel like I’ve gave 110 percent.”
Langford then started to reflect on the journey that the team had taken through the year and the unexpected challenges that they faced. Langford mentioned how he encouraged his teammates to reflect on the perseverance that they had to display, just to make the tournament.
“Take these lessons and use them for next year,” Langford said. “I told the guys ‘Don’t let this time be in vain. Take the things that we all learned and let’s use them for the rest of our life.’”
Josh also had some final words about his relationship with Coach Izzo. He said, “Coach is unbelievable... I have learned so much from Coach since day one. His leadership. The way he holds people accountable. The way that he approaches things. His preparation. His mentality. So many different things I have learned from Coach.”
Langford even commented that the success that many former Spartans have enjoyed after they leave campus, both on and off the court, are due to Coach Izzo’s leadership.
“He just gives you that championship mindset and that winner’s mentality that I am not going to give up,” Langford said. “I am going to give the best that I have. I am not going to be mediocre. He gives you that mindset and I will always be thankful for Coach.”
Langford also flat out said that he played his last college basketball game. So while he technically could come back for a sixth year of eligibility due to the COVID pandemic, it doesn’t seem likely.
Langford said he “played his last college basketball game,” so will likely not be returning for an extra year of eligibility next season.— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) March 19, 2021
As for Coach Izzo, he thanked the the leadership at the NCAA for giving his team the chance to compete, despite the challenges that the COVID pandemic has presented.
“I just want to take my hat off to Danny Gavitt and JoAnn Scott and all the people that gave us an opportunity to play,” Izzo said. “Last year we were sitting at home. We thought we had a team that was capable of getting to a Final Four and those guys didn’t even get a chance.
“I hope people realize just know how big of an undertaking this was and how pleased my players were to get an opportunity to play, especially the ones that didn’t get that opportunity last year. So, hats off to them. Thank you. I appreciate it. Sorry I’m not going to be staying here longer to enjoy it.”
Finally, Coach Izzo had a message for the fans, “I say I feel disappointed, feel like I let you down. And we’re going to work on some things next year probably this summer. Hopefully it won’t happen to us again over and over. And we’ll see if we can do a better job of some of the things that I did.”