Kerwin: Three takeaways following Spartans’ 75-70 loss to Penn State


Cassius Winston (Photo: Ian Gilmour / WDBM)

Natalie Kerwin, Men's Basketball Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING — It’s been a tough few weeks for the No. 16 Michigan State Spartans. Just as MSU fans were hopeful for a win against another AP Top 25 team, the Spartans couldn’t pull through as they faced another loss Tuesday night to No. 22 Penn State, losing 75-70.

Here are some of my quick takeaways:

Midseason losses are familiar

Don’t lose hope — this 3-4 stretch of games may seem all too familiar. The Spartans were in an early February slump last season at this time, where they had lost three straight games to end their hot 9-0 start in the Big Ten. And you may remember what happened from it — Coach Izzo whipped them into shape mentally and physically, and they went on and won 14 of the next 15 games. This led them to win the Big Ten, the Big Ten tournament, and make it to the Final Four.

“It’s a crucial time in the season. Crucial stretch we’re going to have,” senior guard Cassius Winston said. “To win championships, you gotta fight through moments like this.”

Coach Tom Izzo isn’t as apprehensive as some of the Spartan faithful seem to be, either.

“I mean, I have been through things that, the last three years have been interesting, so I’m not worried about me, I’m not worried about my team,” Izzo said. “I’m just disappointed that some things have cost us, and some good guys haven’t changed. When you do some things, you better work on that and make sure that doesn’t happen again and it has happened repeatedly a little bit.”

Spartans are still in need of that second scoring option

It was evident in Tuesday night’s game that the scoring burden on Cassius Winston is far too much. Winston was the only player to reach double figures (25 points) and that is unacceptable for a team that’s trying to find its road to success throughout February and March. 

We’ve seen the struggles Michigan State has faced throughout this season, especially on the road, and a big part of that is due to players not stepping up. We’ve seen glimpses from sophomore Gabe Brown and freshman Rocket Watts, showing us the type of players they can be with their 3-point shooting and defensive skills. We haven’t seen much from a quiet Aaron Henry. Xavier Tillman has been right there with Winston most of the time, helping complete the 1-2 tandem they’re expected to be. But other times, like against Penn State, nine points wasn’t quite good enough to get the team a win.

“I kind of have to be that guy,” Tillman said. “Sometimes I don’t realize it. I look around and wait for someone to say something and nobody will say nothing. I’m like ‘OK, this is my time.’”

Too many mistakes

The Spartans need to quit the turnovers. Izzo has preached it time and time again. It’s an ongoing issue with this team, and has impacted a lot of this team’s losses this season. The Spartans had nine turnovers in the first half alone, and ended the game with a total of 15. Penn State scored 21 points off of them. 

An inability to score was another facet of this loss. The Spartans have to emphasize physicality. Penn State showed that all night long, and Michigan State has lacked that within this last two-week stretch of games. Winston looked like he was forcing it in the second half of Tuesday’s game, but no other players seemed to have that aggression. It all came down to Winston getting fouled on a layup and shooting a free throw in the final 11 seconds, but he missed. For a player that shoots 86% from the free throw line this season, this was unlike him. This loss shouldn’t be blamed on Winston, but a team effort as a whole. 

Michigan State moves on to 16-7 overall and 8-4 in the Big Ten. The Spartans head down to play in-state rival Michigan in Ann Arbor this Saturday at noon. Follow @WDBMSports on Twitter for game coverage.

Natalie Kerwin is a men’s basketball beat reporter for Impact 89FM WDBM. Follow her on Twitter at @NatalieKerwin1.