When Tom Izzo and Greg Kampe stepped to the podium for their postgame press conferences, both coaches did so in the exact same manner.
With a grimace, a heavy sigh, and nearly identical opening statements: that they had just finished the worst basketball game between MSU and Oakland that either coach had ever seen.
The No. 15 Spartans (4-1) won the lackluster game, beating the Grizzlies (2-4) 70-52 Friday night in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated.
“I said to Tom (Izzo) after the game, and I think he agreed, that was probably the worst played Oakland-Michigan State basketball game in the series since we moved to Division I,” Kampe said.
“The first year we played them we weren’t very good but I think we played a good basketball game without very good players. They won by 30, but it was close at halftime and it was a good game. I thought tonight was very bad basketball.”
The game opened with MSU turning the ball over eight times in the first eight minutes and Oakland missing 15 of its first 17 shots, as MSU grinded out a 10-9 lead with 13:04 remaining in the first half.
Searching for an offensive rhythm, the Spartans began pounding the ball inside, using a 10-1 run to gain the first double-digit lead of the game, 20-10, with 8:22 to go in the opening session.
Eight of the 10 points came off baskets or fouls from inside the paint, with junior forward Adreian Payne leading the surge, scoring six of the 10 points before finishing with 15 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots.
Izzo had said about a week ago that he wanted to see the ball go inside more frequently, and both he and Payne agreed Friday night that although there’s been improvement, there’s still more work to be done.
Payne added that his baseline jump shot, which was effective against Oakland, could help create more opportunities inside for himself and senior center Derrick Nix.
“I think we’re getting some touches, but we could still get more,” Payne said. “I’m just trying to extend the offense, their defense, and make us a better team. We’ll be able to get the ball inside easier.”
When the ball wasn’t going inside, junior guard Keith Appling was leading the Spartans’ offensive attack from the perimeter, scoring a game-high 20 points while grabbing six rebounds and leading MSU’s fast break.
Appling played 38 minutes after playing the full 40 minutes against Boise State three days earlier, and likely would have replicated the feat if not for a brief injury scare with 2:04 remaining in the first half.
The tweak to Appling’s ankle proved not to be serious, which was critical for an MSU backcourt already depleted by injuries to freshman guard Gary Harris and sophomore guard Travis Trice.
The Spartans took a 34-21 lead into halftime, but struggled to pull away from Oakland, as the Grizzlies regularly cut MSU’s lead down to single digits.
Despite MSU leading from start to finish, the Grizzlies never went away, as Oakland used a zone defense to continue forcing Spartan turnovers.
Oakland turned 20 MSU turnovers into 24 points, and after junior guard Duke Mondy nailed a 3-pointer, Oakland was within four points, 55-51 with 6:36 to go.
From there, Nix took over, finding Appling for a 3-pointer to put MSU up by seven, along with scoring six points of his own to help the Spartans close the game on a 15-1 run.
Nix was one of four Spartans to score in double figures, finishing with 10 points and seven rebounds, while freshman guard Denzel Valentine recorded his first career double-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in only his second career start and first-ever game against his brother, Oakland’s senior guard Drew Valentine.
Even though Izzo opened his press conference by saying the quality of basketball in the game was, “embarrassing,” he admitted there were a number of positives to take away from the win.
“We had some guys that just didn’t play very well, turned the ball over a ridiculous (amount), then when we got the ball inside we had some good things happen,” Izzo said.
“So there were some positives. The positives were how we shot 53 percent, (which) I don’t know (how). The 83 (percent) from the (free throw) line is a big positive … holding them to 27 percent (shooting).
“For (Nix) and Payne to play almost 30 minutes apiece, there were some positives in this game. We beat a pretty good basketball team and we’re in dire needs right now as far as our rotation. It’s just we’ve got some guys that aren’t ready to do what they need to do. … We’re just in survival mode right now.”