DETROIT — It wasn’t supposed to end this way.
Not for anybody. The fans, the players, the senior class on this Michigan State roster.
Going into Sunday afternoon’s clash against No. 11-seeded Syracuse, Gavin Schilling, Ben Carter and Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. weren’t anticipating walking off the court for the final time in their collegiate careers.
But at 5:16 p.m., they did.
No. 3-seeded Michigan State was upset by No. 11-seeded Syracuse 55-53. A Cassius Winston halfcourt prayer went unanswered at the buzzer, and Michigan State’s season was over.
“Probably the saddest I’ve ever been in my life,” sophomore Miles Bridges said. “I wanted to send my best friend, Tum Tum, out the right way, and our seniors, Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling. And unfortunately I couldn’t do that. That was my only goal for this year, and I’m sad I couldn’t do it, but life goes on. And — I don’t know, just life goes on.”
Carter played 23 minutes in the loss, a season high. And although he’s only been with the program two years, he reflected on the season that was.
“I’m glad I could be a part of something so special,” Carter said. “These guys taught me something every day. Even an old guy like me, I learned something from every single one of these guys. I’m proud to be a Spartan. I’m proud that I was able to represent this university the best way I could.”
MSU coach Tom Izzo regretted the lack of playing time for Schilling. In hindsight, he would have liked to send the senior forward out with some time on the floor.
“I felt sad that… I didn’t get Schilling in,” Izzo said. “And Ben been played a little more. Hasn’t been playing much. But I didn’t get Tum any minutes. It was just the game. I talked to him about it before. It was just the situation.”
Schilling confirmed in the locker room that he wasn’t injured. He didn’t see the floor once in the Spartans’ two-point loss.
“I believe I could have brought some leadership, rebounding, defense,” Schilling said. “I could have opened up the lane in transition by running down, getting guys open … (Michigan State is) going to forever hold a place in my heart. I didn’t really expect it to end this way, but you gotta live with it. I’ll forever be a part of this program and I’m grateful for that.”
Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. represented MSU in the most positive way, time after time. Win or lose, he’d keep his head held high. Sunday was no different.
“We stuck together through it all,” Nairn Jr. said, reminiscing on his four years in East Lansing. “The good times, the bad times, the ups, the downs. That’s what Spartan Nation is all about, being a Spartan, picking up each other. And that’s what we did.”
Nairn Jr. only played two minutes against Syracuse, the fewest of any Spartan. But he will be remembered mostly for what he contributed to MSU off the court, rather than on it.
“(This was) a team that continued to grow through adversity and always stuck together no matter what,” Nairn said. “(I learned) what family is really about. I can remember times, being from the Bahamas, when there’s storms and hurricanes coming. And coach [Izzo], I’d have like five missed calls from him in class because he was calling me to make sure my family was okay. Just stuff like that, I’ll always remember.
“My greatest memories are not on the court. They’re off the court. And I think that’s what Spartan basketball is all about.”
Izzo has repeatedly spoken to Nairn Jr.’s ability to lead a group and motivational words in times of disarray. His leadership will be missed dearly amongst the program.
“That kid has meant the world to our program, our community, our team, and me,” Izzo said of Nairn. “I don’t know if there’s another Tum out there. I just hope I can keep him around for a while. I’ll figure that out in the future. He’s meant the world to our entire community.”
Looking back on what he called the best four years of his life after taking “a leap of faith” leaving home to pursue a career in the game he lives, Nairn Jr. doesn’t wish anything played out any differently.
“I have no regrets,” Nairn Jr. said. “I’m not gonna put my head down and I don’t want anybody else in this room to put their head down. This is part of life. Just because we play basketball, when you win or you lose, it feels like life and death. But it’s really not. Because like I told the guys in this room afterwards: nobody in this room is fighting cancer. Nobody in this room is struggling to get a meal. Everybody goes to sleep at night.
“It’s hard to keep that in perspective after you lose a game and you have so much expectations in a season. But you never grow in good times.”