Balley: No. 8 MSU comes back to earth in 71-42 loss to Purdue


Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Trent Balley, Columnist

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana. — Tom Izzo has not won at Purdue since 2014.

And that streak continued as the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans came out flat against unranked Purdue in West Lafayette – to say the least. The Spartans fell to Purdue 71-42 in a grounding loss on the road that rapidly shortens their lead in the Big Ten standings.

And as a result, the Spartans now have their first loss in the Big Ten, and their first loss since Dec. 3 against Duke. The eight game win streak has been snapped.

Similar to last season’s double-digit loss at Mackey Arena, the Spartans were out-hustled across the board by the Boilermakers. Purdue’s home/away discrepancy this season has been wild and inexplicable, and now the Boilermakers have beaten the Spartans at home four times in a row.

Coach Tom Izzo certainly won’t be happy with how his team performed, albeit in a tough environment like Mackey Arena. The noise was a big point of emphasis for Izzo in preparing for the matchup. Whether or not the noise was the driving force behind the disappointing showing, what’s done is done. Here are some takeaways from the Spartans’ loss:

1. Carelessness is killer

A single stat would indicate the result of the game without any other context. Michigan State turned the ball over a whopping 18 times compared to only six from Purdue.

Sure, there were a few controversial traveling calls, but that’s true of every game. Point guard Cassius Winston accounted for nine uncharacteristic turnovers, which of course doesn’t help. But far too often, the Spartans rely on Winston to bail them out in tough situations, and they shouldn’t get too comfortable with that formula.

Especially on the road against a tough Big Ten opponent, the Spartans simply cannot turn the ball over that many times and expect to have a chance. The result? A near 30-point loss.

2. Finding the deep ball

At times in the game, it seemed like Purdue couldn’t miss from 3-point range. Senior forward Evan Boudreaux went 3-for-5 from deep, with teammates Eric Hunter Jr. and Sasha Stefanovic each hitting a pair of threes as well. As a team, the Boilermakers shot 36.4% from the 3-point line.

The Spartans, on the other hand, struggled to find their stroke, shooting only 2-for-16 (12.5%) from long range. Winston was unable to knock down any of his five attempts, and the usual suspects on the wings like Gabe Brown and Aaron Henry struggled to get anything going on offense.

Had more 3-pointers dropped, perhaps the Spartans would have found themselves finishing with more than 42 points, a new season low. The next lowest on the season was 62 points vs. Kentucky at Madison Square Garden to open the season.

3. Team effort

As mentioned before, the Spartans sometimes rely too heavily on Winston’s heroics to win games. The problem is, especially after back-to-back 32 and 27-point performances, what happens when he isn’t dominant? His 10 points and five assists weren’t as inflated as MSU fans are accustomed to seeing, but the slack wasn’t picked up by anybody else.

Xavier Tillman has been another cornerstone for the Spartans’ success, and his eight points and eight rebounds were not awful vs. Purdue. But again, that’s not enough. If Winston and Tillman are going to combine for less than 20 points, Izzo needs his other guys to answer the bell. 

The sophomore trio of Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham Jr. combined for just 3-for-13 from the floor. It’s simply not good enough.

All around, maybe the Spartans were just due for a rough game. Given the full body of work this season, it’s very hard to imagine that there’s a major cause for concern, or that this will be the new norm. They came out flat against Purdue and they paid the price. 

They’ll look to right the ship vs. Wisconsin at home on Friday.

Trent Balley is a sports columnist for Impact89FM. You can follow him on Twitter @TBal91