Patel: What the loss to Purdue means for the Spartans

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Aaron Henry drives in the paint during the Spartans’ 75-65 road loss to Purdue/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Manit Patel, Women's Basketball Beat Reporter

With a 65-75 loss to the Purdue Boilermakers on Tuesday, the Michigan State Spartans are all but eliminated from NCAA Tournament contention, barring a stretch where they win out and win a few games in the Big Ten Tournament. This may very well be the first time Michigan State misses the NCAA Tournament in 22 years. 

Overall, this game, along with many others this season, highlighted a few recurring themes of the 2020-21 Spartans.

One of those themes is the Spartans turning the ball over when they desperately need a basket or a momentum shift. Purdue scored 12 points off of turnovers, and MSU’s Joey Hauser turned it over twice with less than a minute left in the game. Both turnovers would result in the Boilermakers scoring on free throws, effectively ending the game. However, this is a simple fix and one the Spartans can change quickly. Should that be the case, their fortunes could certainly be changed for the better. 

One thing the Spartans have lacked this season, that has been a strength in years past, is reliable frontcourt players. With Jaren Jackson Jr., Xavier Tillman Sr. and Nick Ward in recent years, players like that were the reason the Spartans were able to defend, as well as attack in the paint. The lack of consistency in the frontcourt from past years to now is obvious. 

Purdue big man Trevion Williams wreaked havoc on the Spartans’ frontcourt Tuesday with a 28-point, six-rebound performance. The Boilermakers doubled the Spartans up in points in the paint. Establishing consistency, or figuring out who the go-to players are in the frontcourt, is a priority for MSU coach Tom Izzo. Finding consistency in the frontcourt has been tough with injuries and COVID-19 complications all season long.

“If we figure out the situation within the frontcourt, a lot of our troubles will go away,” Izzo said.

In seasons past, the Spartans have always had a go-to star player when they need a quick bucket for momentum, or when they need a shot in clutch time. Having a player like that is key to maintaining status as a top team. Aaron Henry provided a glimpse of what kind of go-to player he can be against Purdue, playing every minute in the second half in which he had 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting. The way Henry spoke of his second-half mentality makes me truly think he could become the go-to player the Spartans need sooner rather than later. 

Nonetheless, performing that way in the second half needs to come much more consistently, not only from Henry, but this entire MSU team. However, should one player really take over, the Spartans could change their outlook on the remainder of the season from bleak prospects to a possible run for a NCAA Tournament bid.

Regardless of how this season ends, you could see in Izzo’s last few post-game press conferences that he is truly proud of this team and all that it has accomplished and endured this season. Izzo and Henry both emphasized that they still have hope for the season, and the rest of the team and coaching staff feel the same way. 

While much of the media and fans have already written off the Spartans, I wouldn’t count them out just yet.

Follow Manit Patel on Twitter at @manit__patel.