The Michigan State Spartans managed to overcome a long field goal drought in the second half after leading Maryland by as many as 15 points last night to escape back up the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to catch the flight home.
However, head coach Tom Izzo was less than enthused with his team’s performance last night in College Park against the Maryland Terrapins. Despite the 65-63 victory, Coach Izzo had plenty of praise to heap on the Terrapins to open his remarks.
“I give a lot of credit to Maryland and the job (Maryland interim head coach) Danny (Manning) did” Izzo said. “We’re 15 up and should have been able to close it out. You know, we didn’t and it’s because of them playing well and playing like harder than hell getting loose balls and rebounds while we had some bad shots and had a few bad plays. I thought Maryland played awfully hard and can’t imagine how tough the situation is, but I give credit to us that we previously played from the 10 or 12 minute mark and they played hard.”
Izzo viewed the team as still in need of a lot of work, overall. The Spartans went over five minutes without a field goal before Malik Hall finally hit the game-winner with 0:01.9 to go. The fact that Michigan State led by double-digits earlier in the second half, by as much as 15 points at one time, was clearly a frustrating point for the Hall of Fame head coach.
“We’re still a work in progress” Izzo said. “We did set up the last play for Malik (Hall) and told him to take it right to the basket. There were a lot of fouls called tonight and that was the only way we felt we could finish the game. To his credit, he did. Danny Manning did a hell of a job with his team and we’ve got some work to do.”
Team captain and reliable man off the bench, Izzo was asked specifically about Hall’s performance tonight in light of yet another clutch performance by the versatile forward. Izzo had plenty of praise to heap on him after a number of big games in recent weeks besides last night’s contest at Maryland.
“Malik (Hall) has had a hell of a year,” Izzo exclaimed. “He and Joey (Hauser), the relationship they have. The fact is Malik could be a starter, he’s come off the bench and should be the Sixth Man of the Year (in the Big Ten). He’s done that continuously and he’s getting better and better. We put him in there as a switch four to guard (opposing teams’) guards and can do so many different things with him because he’s so versatile. He can hit a three or he can take it to the basket.”
While Hall has been a clutch player for the Spartans of late, point guard still remains an issue. Michigan State was held back last season to enormous detriment as a team by point guard-play. A lack of consistent play by point guards this season continues to be an issue for coach Izzo.
“Leadership at the point (guard spot) is still a question mark,” Izzo said. “Although Tyson Walker played awfully well. A.J. (Hoggard) struggled a bit tonight, but Malik Hall has been our captain and he comes up (with the plays).
“The problem with the (current) transfer rule is kids could sit out a year and adjust (previously),” Izzo elaborated. “(Walker’s) evaluated like a coach, he’s driving in there with these verticality rules and guys jump up and it’s physical. He got hurt on that a couple of times at Illinois and I think some of them are question marks. That’s what’s different at this level than the level he played at (before). Northeastern is very well-coached and really good defensively, but he scored 18 (points) a game and sometimes I can’t get him to shoot the ball. His defense was outstanding, he’s only two-for-eight because of those layups, and didn’t have many assists. That wasn’t his fault because we didn’t make many shots. I think Tyson has made some great strides and is getting better now in the second half of the season, which you’d expect. He’s got to figure out how to play with guys that are bigger and stronger and quicker.
“We need a leader at the point,” Izzo continued. “We’re just not there yet. It’s hard. Tyson (Walker) did a lot of good things tonight, not A.J. (Hoggard). You know, last game A.J. did a lot of great things, it wasn’t as much Tyson.”
That inconsistency by players between games, and even during single games, was a point of contention for the head coach. Izzo elaborated when pressed on the frustration he has with the team’s ability to string together a full performance in these contests.
“We have some things to work on,” Izzo said. “But there were some stretches in there where we really played well, too. We’ve got some things to feel good about and we’ve got some things to feel bad about. To get a road win in this league is good, but this is the time of the year it’s the halfway point. You hope to be getting better each game, I didn’t think we had enough minutes of getting better today to feel good. I feel really good about a win.”
Despite the fact few players had stretches of quality play together, Izzo was impressed by most of the roster at one point or another during the game. He expressed optimism that players would string those runs in conjunction with one another eventually here.
“Sooner or later, we’re going to get a lot of good guys playing together,” Izzo claimed, almost as if to reassure himself rather than the media assembled in front of him. “Gabe (Brown) had some good shots, we did force a couple, and as much as Marcus (Bingham Jr.) hit a few threes, Julius (Marble) played good for a while, and everyone had a good stretch at times, but never together.”
That good will regarding the team’s efforts did evaporate rather quickly when pressed on team effort on the glass, however. Michigan State was yet again out-rebounded by an opponent for the second time in 10 days. Maryland narrowly beat out Michigan State on the glass 31-30, which was less lopsided than Northwestern’s 40-35 advantage to be fair. However, coach Izzo was less than generous in giving the team the benefit of being on the road against an arguably better opponent than NU.
“It’s a joke for Michigan State,” Izzo said harshly in reference to the program he’s built on rebounding in East Lansing. “Give credit because they (Maryland) went after it, but we just aren’t getting the message on that. Turnovers are a problem, but nobody tries to turn the ball over. The effort-related things like cutting out and rebounding are starting to really get to me a little bit more than it maybe should, so we’re going to fix that. The turnovers, I don’t know. But that one we’ve got to fix.”
Perhaps the roster better get ready for a classic Izzo “war drill” in the practice days ahead. In the meantime, Michigan State moved to 8-2 and into a first-place tie in the Big Ten Conference, and 17-4 overall on the season. The Spartans return to the East Coast to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Saturday at 4 p.m. EST with the game being broadcast on FS1.