The Michigan State Spartans men’s basketball team led the No. 2 Gonzaga Bulldogs for much of Friday’s Veterans Day matchup on the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Armed Forces Classic, but was unable to pull out the victory in the end.
Despite the 64-63 loss, head coach Tom Izzo had a lot of positives to say and promise to build on with his squad. Though, he was perhaps a bit angry at a particular question from reporters right from the get-go.
The question first on everyone’s minds was the final play of the game. Michigan State failed to score for the victory in the final 15 seconds of the game, trailing by one point and coming out of the timeout. As it turns out, the issue was a slip by guard Tyson Walker that caused him to not get open as a result.
“We were going to try to post Malik (Hall),” Izzo said. “And then Tyson (Walker) would be wide open. He slipped a little bit, and if he’d had been wide open, he’d have probably done it off the dribble, but he wasn’t.”
However, when pressed about if he thought the players were having trouble with slipping, Izzo quickly rejected the idea. “No, no, it was an unbelievable night,” Izzo insisted. “A little windy at times. We had a chance, but we just ran out of bodies and size.”
Speaking of bodies, All-American center Drew Timme was a big advantage for the Bulldogs and Izzo quickly pivoted to him in his answer.
“Give (Drew) Timme credit,” Izzo lauded. “The All-American at the end got two, three offensive rebounds and hit a couple shots. We doubled him, he hit that three. I’ve never seen a team that follows the game plan like we wanted it. We had so many goofy turnovers and then the foul trouble. We just had some weird lineups. (Freshman) Jaxon’s (Kohler) not quite ready yet.”
Izzo’s reference to a freshman quickly resulted in a question about fellow freshman big man Carson Cooper not seeing the court, and just as quickly drew a heated reply from Izzo.
“No, no, did not had a very good freakin’ day, so don’t ask me those questions,” bit off Izzo. “If I felt like I was going to use Cooper, I’d have used Cooper. Freshmen got to get their butt ready to play, and his wasn’t ready this morning, so write that.”
Another reporter promptly pivoted to fellow big man, but upperclassmen, Mady Sissoko and his career day.
Asked what he liked about Sissoko’s performance, Izzo replied “Everything, everything, including when I thought he was getting nailed and held down, it was a tough game. I give him a lot of credit for a tough game with officiating. I thought Mady (Sissoko) did a heck of a job trying to front these guys. He got bowed a little bit, but he missed some free throws early, jumped on him at halftime, and credit to him, he made a bunch in the second half.”
Izzo again at that point brought up the lack of bodies on the roster, not explicitly referring to the lack of big men, but reading through the lines one could pick up that issue.
“It was just one of those things where we just ran out of bodies,” Izzo repeated. Joey (Hauser) gets in foul trouble early and then kind of totals his game. Malik (Hall) I thought played pretty good. A.J. (Hoggard) played pretty good. We got some play out of guys, but we just didn’t get enough play inside.
“We just didn’t have the right bodies in there. The second half, some shots weren’t falling, but first half, their shots weren’t falling. I mean it was that kind of night. Everything about tonight was great except the final score. I’m telling you, what we wanted to do going under the ball screens, following the game plan, it was unbelievable. We just didn’t make some shots. We missed some critical ones. A few times that we had that were good shots, they got rebounds. Our offense wasn’t great, but it wasn’t that bad.”
Asked about some of the biggest positives he could take away about his team tonight, Izzo reminded the media, “I’ve been telling you all summer, I like this team. The team plays with passion. Defensively, we were unbelievable. The only place that we got hurt was in the post. We tried doubling late, we tried a lot of different things. I can’t play a freshman, (Jaxon Kohler), that’s not ready to play and can’t make a free throw. That’s gotta change, but he’s freshman that I didn’t even think I would be playing...We ran out of bodies.”
Izzo also reminded reporters that Sissoko worked his butt off all summer and it showed on Friday night. He later went on to talk about “moral victories” and the fact the team wanted to win. Be sure to catch that segment in the clip below.
Finally for Coach Izzo’s remarks, be sure to catch his compliments of the Lincoln’s captain and crew along with his appreciation to get to play for the veterans and service members in attendance.
As for Sissoko, he briefly spoke with media before having to head to the team bus.
Asked about his having to watch the game from the bench at the end after his performance Sissoko said, “It was a sad feeling to be honest. I want to be out there and win the game, but that didn’t happen. I was a little bit bummed out. But I’m very proud of them (his teammates). A.J. (Hoggard) controlled the game the whole way. The way he played tonight, he keeps doing that, we’re going to have a great season.”
Asked about how playing Timme can give him confidence to face some of the plentiful big men in the Big Ten this season, Sissoko viewed the opportunity as a positive.
“It gives me confidence,” Sissoko said. “Drew Timme’s a hell of a player. It wasn’t easy (tonight). But it gives me confidence.
“I feel like some parts I played very well. At the same time, some parts I think I could have done a little better job. He got a couple offensive rebounds. I was a little bit scared for the foul. I think I could do a better job on him, especially in the second half.”
Michigan State had a red eye flight home after the game. The Spartans return to the court in Indianapolis on Tuesday night, Nov. 15, against the No. 4 Kentucky Wildcats in the Champions Classic (ESPN).