There were a lot of things for the Michigan State Spartans to be excited about tonight. Draymond Green’s No. 23 jersey retirement, the team coming in with a win against Duke under their belt from last season, NBA players in attendance, a 6.5-point favorite in the spread and an electric crowd.
What could’ve seemed like the perfect set-up for the Spartans turned out to be too much after they lost 87-75 to No. 10 Duke.
There were too many turnovers and MSU wasn’t playing well on either side of the ball. The Spartans were not there mentally either, which is a huge component of basketball, and any sport.
Vernon Carey was unstoppable with 26 points and 11 rebounds for Duke. It was a game of toughness, and MSU couldn’t put up a fight.
The Spartans started the first possession with a dish from Rocket Watts to Xavier Tillman, but Watts tried a floater on the next trip and airballed it way too long. MSU continued with four turnovers at the 15:33 mark of the first half. Michigan State looked anxious, turning the ball over four times in less than three minutes and trailed Duke 9-5. One of Izzo’s biggest keys this season was to avoid turnovers; he mentions it in almost every press conference. The Blue Devils already led the game 11-7.
Cassius Winston went out early as Izzo refocused the game plan. This led to Foster Loyer coming in and not being aggressive to the ball as Izzo tried to experiment with lineups.
Watts had a nice move to get separation for a jumper, and then got fouled in transition. With 11:53 left in the half, MSU continued trailing Duke 15-11, with the Blue Devils scoring eight points off of Spartan turnovers. Unknown at the time, these mistakes set the tone for the rest of the game.
MSU had eight team fouls with 10:58 until halftime. The Spartans struggled to contain Carey. At this point, MSU had more turnovers (seven) than baskets (six). Duke was dominating MSU at both ends of the court as Tre Jones got a 3-pointer to drop over Tillman, forcing Izzo to call a timeout. The Blue Devils were up 32-18 and on an 15-4 run with 4:48 left in the first half. During this time, Winston only had six points, and the Spartans were looking for him to be their saving grace.
The Blue Devils were good at staying on Winston. MSU was down 36-22 with 3:57 left in the first half. Winston and Marcus Bingham had six points each, while Carey had 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks already for Duke.
MSU was down 12, but a put-back layup by Gabe Brown revived the crowd energy for a moment as Duke took their first timeout of the half. The Blue Devils led 45-29 at halftime.
After a rough first half for the Spartans, former player Draymond Green’s jersey was retired during halftime. It brought a lot of emotion and hope for this team to play well with Green and many other notable figures in attendance.
And it did bring hope. Three minutes in, Winston nailed a 3-pointer with an assist by Gabe Brown that could’ve caused the Breslin to shake. Winston’s shot caused Coach Krzyzewski to call a timeout. MSU started the half with nine points compared to Duke’s one. You could see the confidence building.
But Duke continued pulling away, leading 59-43. There were 3-pointers here and there for MSU but Duke didn’t slow down. The Spartans looked much better offensively, but couldn’t stop anything on defense. With a team like Duke, opponents can’t play soft. But that’s what happened tonight — the Spartans got beat by a tougher team.
With about five minutes left in the game, Duke was up 16 and continued to build on their lead like they had the entire game. The Spartans tried coming back on a run like they had last year against Duke, but it wasn’t enough to get the win.
This was a big learning experience for the Spartans, and they’re going to have to work harder at staying mentally tough.
“I’m not doing a very good job at pushing them. There’s no reason that you don’t play hard. That falls on me,” said Izzo. “Yeah we’ve been through more hell than I think I’ve ever been through in my career here, as far as things that happen that set you back. We look like the moment was too big.”
Contact Natalie Kerwin at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @NatalieKerwin1.