CHICAGO – Coming into Tuesday night’s top-ranked matchup against Duke, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo preached two things: rebounding and limiting turnovers.
Unfortunately for Izzo, the Spartans failed to win the battle in either of those departments. And running into Grayson Allen along the way didn’t help matters at all.
“I’m embarrassed, to be honest with you,” Izzo said of his team’s performance postgame. “The idea that a team would get 25 offensive rebounds. I don’t care how big they are. We had two keys to start the game: turnovers and rebounding. Never in a million years did I think we’d get outrebounded like that.”
“To hold them to 39 percent (shooting), 30 in the first half, 27 from three … I’m more disappointed. We did some positive things that I’ll figure out in a couple days, but it won’t be tonight. And give (Duke) credit, but I give us some blame. And I’m going to have to live with that. In general, we did not do a good enough job.”
MSU finished with 17 turnovers to Duke’s nine. Miles Bridges, who led the team along with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Nick Ward with 19 points, committed a game-high five turnovers (tied with Cassius Winston). The Flint, Mich. native attributed them to a mix of the defense from the Blue Devils as well as the need for that one big play to be made.
“I wanted to make a big play for our team,” Bridges said. “Sometimes I went a bit overboard with that, turned the ball over. I just wanted my team to win. We’re just disappointed because we gave the game away. We lost on effort-related stuff. Turnovers, offensive rebounds, stuff we can control. It was hard to get the ball moving.”
Bridges, who played a team-high 37 minutes, also grabbed five rebounds. But to the Blue Devils, it seemed like that matched as many as they’d get in two possessions. In total, MSU was outrebounded 46-34 by Duke and 25-11 on the offensive glass.
“We got in foul trouble,” Bridges said of the rebounding gap. “Gavin (Schilling) was doing great for us, Jaren (Jackson Jr.) was doing great for us, but they both got into foul trouble. So, it was tough to rebound. It’s something we have to work on as a team. We’re going to work on that a lot in practice now. We’re not worried about that because we have length, we have size. We knew it was going to be tough moving the ball around. They’re a long team and that’s why they get so many deflections.”
Winston had trouble navigating the zone defense that Duke showed throughout the game. Whether it was a 2-3, a 3-2 or anything in between, the tall, lengthy arms of Duke defenders would force MSU turnovers possession after possession.
“It’s hard to simulate a zone like that with that many athletes and that length,” Winston said of the Duke defense. “You can only do so much in practice. Out there, you just have to feel your way around it, figure out where you can and can’t get shots.”
“I don’t think we expected them to play zone as much (as they did). It kind of threw off our rhythm, everybody getting touches and standing around a little bit. We probably forced them to play it just as long because we weren’t hitting shots as we should. As we move forward, knock down shots, get baskets and make better decisions, we’ll be alright.”
Josh Langford finished with nine points on 3-of-9 shooting in 25 minutes. Although Izzo said he was “disappointed” in Langford’s unwillingness to take the open shot when it presented itself on Tuesday evening, the Huntsville, Ala. native isn’t worried about moving on.
“It all comes down to us making shots, and we didn’t make shots,” Langford said. “Basketball is about different adverse moments that come about. The biggest thing is just knowing how to deal with that adversity and move on, not really dwell on it too much, but also learn from your mistakes so it won’t happen again.”
Making shots would have obviously helped MSU squeak out a win, but trying different things throughout the course of the game, which Winston did, was a good start.
“I tried to get to the middle a couple times, get to the wings a couple times,” Winston said when asked about adjusting to the Blue Devils’ zone defense. “There’s all types of different adjustments you have to make during the game. And for the most part we did a pretty good job. We got good looks and good shots. Just some other things we have to work on.”
Lineups were shifted around due to big men in foul trouble and the zone giving MSU fits.
“Give them credit, they played it the whole game,” Izzo said of the Duke zone. “If we could get a lead and get them out of the zone, advantage goes to us. But we couldn’t get a big enough lead so we couldn’t take them out. We put Jaren (Jackson Jr.) in the middle, which he can do, but that’s a lot to ask of a freshman right now, Because we put a lot of our offense through there. We just didn’t have enough pep in out step for any of us to make a difference.”
But let’s be honest: as long as Grayson Allen was stroking it from three-point range like he was, the Spartans didn’t have a chance.
Allen was on fire, scoring a Champion’s Classic-record 37 points, breaking Denzel Valentine’s record of 29 against Kansas in 2015. His final three of the game, with one minute remaining, put Duke up 78-75. All in all, he finished with seven three-pointers (7-of-11) and shot 11-of-20 from field goal range.
On top of that, he played all 40 minutes, and Duke was without perhaps their best player for the entire second half and most of the game, Marvin Bagley III, due to an eye injury he suffered in the first half when going up for a rebound.
“Tonight, Allen made some big shots,” Izzo said. “That’s what seniors do. I thought that was the difference in the game. We were a little tired, substituting was not good. We deserved what we got and they deserved what they got.”
For the Spartans, Allen’s barrage from beyond the arc was disheartening after clawing their way back from a double-digit deficit.
“It definitely can drain you,” Winston said of Allen’s 37-point performance. “You can see it in some dudes’ faces just when he hits a shot like that. But you have to keep fighting, keep pushing, go right back at him. They’re a good team, they’re going to hit shots. He was playing really well tonight.”
This was the first test for a Michigan State team that has national championship aspirations. Duke is the No. 1 team in the nation for a reason, and MSU was (assuming they fall in the next rankings that come out) No. 2 for a reason: they’re good.
The Spartans aren’t all of a sudden bad after this one loss. In fact, it just might make them stronger.
“Do I think we’ll get better and do I think get have a chance to play them again? I sure as hell hope so,” Izzo said. “We’re going to get a hell of a lot better, I can promise you that.”