Noticing people embracing the holiday spirit is a sight many enjoy, but for Tom Izzo, it’s forced him to take on a new role: Grinch.
The MSU men’s basketball coach wasn’t pleased with his team’s giving mood in a 63-60 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette (2-4) Sunday afternoon, where the No. 15 Spartans (5-1) turned the ball over 20 times, including 14 in the second half.
“They’re going to be hell of citizens when they get done with basketball because they are guys who the Christmas season must last all year,” Izzo said.
“They’re not turning the ball over, they’re giving gifts away. A turnover is when a team makes a play and intercepts it. A gift is when you give somebody something. You just give it to them. We’re giving things to them right now, (saying) ‘Here, take it.’ … It’s hard to think about anything else.”
The turnovers, which Izzo repeatedly described as “ridiculous,” allowed the Ragin’ Cajuns to hang in the game and have two chances with the ball in their hands to tie or win the game in the final minute.
Louisiana-Lafayette came to play from the opening tip, starting the game on a 10-3 run and holding the lead for the game’s first 13 minutes.
It wasn’t until Brandan Kearney drained a 3-pointer with 6:53 to go in the first half that MSU gained its first lead, 23-21.
The sophomore guard was a spark off the bench for the Spartans, helping MSU to a 33-27 halftime lead while being the team’s top scorer in the first half.
Kearney finished with a career-high 10 points as one of three Spartans to score in double figures.
MSU built on its lead in the second half, briefly leading by 10 points on two separate occasions, but the Ragin’ Cajuns refused to go away, cutting MSU’s lead to four points three separate times off 3-point shots in the game’s final 10 minutes.
The final 3-pointer, from sophomore guard Kevin Brown, reduced MSU’s lead to 60-56 with 1:44 to go in the game.
After both teams exchanged free throws, freshman guard Denzel Valentine committed his team-high fifth turnover of the game, resulting in a fast break layup that brought Louisiana-Lafayette within two points, 62-60, with 51 seconds remaining.
Izzo warned there might be a reduction in playing time for players if the turnovers persist, and Valentine said he agreed with Izzo’s assessment and described his own play as “horrible.”
“If I was the head coach I’d say that too,” Valentine said.
“Guys are turning the ball over too much, and you’re playing them. You’ve got to do something about it. You’ve got to say something to motivate somebody, so I think that is motivation.”
Junior center Adreian Payne was unable to convert a lob on MSU’s next possession, but a runner from Long rimmed out, forcing Louisiana-Lafayette to foul sophomore guard Branden Dawson.
Dawson split the free throws, putting MSU in front 63-60 with six seconds to go, but Payton’s last-second 3-pointer failed to graze the rim.
A common theme among players after the game was there needs to be a greater respect for the ball and fewer casual plays as conference play draws closer.
“We just have to command the ball, stop being casual with the ball, stop being all lackadaisical,” Dawson said.
“We’re averaging about 17 (turnovers) on the season right now and that’s not good. If we’re playing good teams in the Big Ten, like Indiana, and we have those turnovers we’re down 25 or something. So we just have to pick it up and play hard.”