WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Duke, Michigan, Virginia. Add Michigan State to the list of national title hopefuls who have lost a game in recent days. It was always going to be difficult for the Spartans to win Sunday’s game, a trip to hostile Mackey Arena and Purdue. The Boilermakers never gave MSU a chance to claim a major road victory, seizing early momentum on the way to a 73-63 victory. The loss was MSU’s first in Big Ten play.
Again without the services of starters Kyle Ahrens and Josh Langford, MSU found offense hard to come by throughout, scoring just 19 points in the first half – their lowest total since 2004. The Boilermakers brought plenty of energy on both sides of the ball and were full value for their eighth win in nine games.
“In the first half and at halftime, we were really just disappointed in our bigs,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “We didn’t think they did the job.”
It was a balanced scoring attack from Purdue despite Matt McQuaid playing solid defense for a second time against Boilermaker star Carsen Edwards. Edwards finished with 14 points on 4-of-19 shooting, but it was guard Ryan Cline that led Purdue with 17 points.
“That’s the best cutting, screening team in college basketball,” Izzo said. “What wasn’t good enough to win was the offensive rebounds, the way they punished us inside. That was disappointing.”
Purdue out-rebounded MSU by one of the Spartans’ worst margins this year, picking up 16 offensive rebounds to beat MSU on the glass 42-33.
MSU was down by 23 with 14:52 left before chipping away. Cassius Winston scored 9 points in the middle of a 17-9 Spartan run that cut the lead down to 57-51. An Aaron Henry layup with just over five minutes left cut the Purdue lead to four, but MSU’s search for a way back into the game left them with too many contested shots to complete the comeback.
Winston led MSU with 23 points, but a lack of balance doomed the Spartans as much as anything else. Nick Ward never got going inside against the 7-foot-3 Matt Haarms, finishing with 9 points on 4-of-10 shooting. McQuaid was MSU’s next-best scorer with 12 points.
“We made it a game, just a couple little things let us down,” Winston said. Later, he was upbeat about MSU’s play in the first half of the conference slate. “We’re still top of the conference, we dropped the ball in this one. It’s a lot we can get better at, a lot of little things we can fix.”
From there, the two teams traded baskets and MSU couldn’t quite put themselves in a position to win. Tom Izzo elected to foul Nojel Eastern in the late-game, but the 50-percent free throw shooter made six straight attempts to put the game beyond reach.
It was the first half that Izzo’s team will rue most coming out of Mackey. MSU shot poorly from the field in the early going, hitting just three of their first 15 shot attempts. With the road trip being their third game in six days, it may have just been a case of tired legs for most of the playing rotation.
It took the Spartans about 11 minutes to get into the game, as McQuaid and Winston hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cut Purdue’s lead to 19-12. However, a Ryan Cline 3-pointer and an open layup for Trevion Williams pushed the Boilermaker lead back to 12 at the under-8 timeout.
Forced to settle for jump shots at nearly every turn, MSU went nearly five minutes in the first half without scoring, and it took solid defense coupled with missed Boilermaker shots to keep the game somewhat within reach before halftime.
It takes a very, very special team to go perfect in this conference, and while MSU still might be that team, it was always going to face stiff opposition in this Boilermakers team, who have now won eight of their last nine games. Purdue now sits a game and a half behind MSU, nestled behind Michigan in third place in the conference.
MSU has a full week off before hosting Indiana in a Saturday evening matchup at the Breslin Center. ESPN’s College Gameday will be in town ahead of a 6 p.m. tip.
Purdue has a Thursday trip to Penn State next on the schedule, their game will tip off at 7 p.m.