If it’s not one thing, it’s another for Michigan State basketball in 2016. Injuries, lack of size, shots not falling. In Saturday’s home game against Tennessee Tech it was free throws. MSU finished 17 for 30 from the line, and at one point were four for 13.
MSU clawed out another close victory over a lesser opponent, defeating TTU 71-63.
It doesn’t add up, though. The Spartans outshot Tech from the field 46.8 percent to 40.4 percent – it could have been higher if MSU didn’t finish the game on a two for 14 skid – and were more efficient behind the arc, notching 40 percent to the Golden Eagles’ 35.7 percent. All this and they still only won by eight. Free throws can dictate the flow of the game, especially when there are 50 fouls called in a game.
“Free throw thing, we brought them in the morning, we brought them in at night and believe it or not if I showed you how most of them are shooting, Eron Harris makes 90, 95 out of a hundred and goes up there (in the game) and misses (his first) two,” said Izzo.
No answer for the team that came into today’s game 321st out of 350 NCAA Division 1 teams in free throw percentage.
Stretching beyond free throws, Saturday’s game consisted of “the most bizarre lineups I’ve (Izzo’s) ever played,” exemplifying this team’s injury-ridden roster – Matt McQuaid was out due to a head injury – and apparent lack of identity. At one point Kyle Ahrens was the power forward and Matt Van Dyk was the center, if you can even use those kind of labels.
Luckily, Eron Harris swooped in and momentarily took the nightly duty of being the go-to guy for the night.
Harris finished with 20 points and epitomizes how on a night-to-night basis MSU struggles to find who will be the go-to guy. We’ve seen it be Miles Brides or Nick Ward or even on some nights, no one at all. Harris himself has gone off for anywhere between two and 31 points. It’s this lack of consistency that bothers Izzo.
“We took some steps. If I looked at Duke and if I looked at Arizona and I even look at Kentucky in the first half, or I look at the teams in the tournament down in the Bahamas, we played a lot of good minutes,” Izzo said. “But when we go south, we go real south, and that’s what we have to correct. You can have a drought, but it can’t be eight minutes. You can have a turnover; it can’t be five of them in a short period of time. You can miss a layup or free throw, but not a whole bunch of them.”
“I don’t know if they can’t stand prosperity or just wear down a little bit.”
Ahrens, Alvin Ellis and Josh Langford were all hitting the three alongside Harris against TTU, but is that sustainable? Throughout the season, Spartan fans have seen the three not fall on certain nights and it puts the team in scary positions.
The game plan to go to Harris from the get-go worked, as he started three for three from range right out of the gates. And there were good signs that multiple guys can be threats in Bridges’ absence as Ward had double digit points again, Langford showed more glimpses of the assassin of a scorer he can be and Ahrens tied his career high of nine points.
Cassius Winston once again showed he is more than capable of being the floor general of a Big Ten program and finished with nine assists while showcasing his ability to know when to take the shot or dish it out.
MSU led by 18 points at multiple points, but couldn’t put the Golden Eagles away.
“Out biggest flaw is not sustaining our play,” Harris said after the game. “We play great, system ball. But then we get to a point where start playing sloppy and doing our own thing once we get up big.”