Crimson, Cream, Casualty
Spartans frustrated by referees, turnovers in fourth defeat of the season
Bloomington, Ind. — All year no matter how ugly the game would get, the Spartans knew they would find a way to grind out victories in the final minutes behind the poise of their dependable closer.
But with 5:17 to go and MSU trailing 69-65, the chant began.
“Left, right, left, right.”
A capacity crowd at Assembly Hall counted out each of Keith Appling’s steps as he made his way to the bench.
As the junior guard took a seat for the final time, the message was sent.
The absence of their closer proved too great a challenge, and the No. 13 MSU men’s basketball team (17-4 overall, 6-2 Big Ten) failed to cinch the gap, falling to No. 7 Indiana (18-2, 6-1) Sunday afternoon, 75-70.
Appling finished with three points, zero assists and four turnovers before fouling out.
“To (not) be able to be out there on the floor with my teammates, that was painful,” Appling said. “Especially knowing that if I was out there, we could have been able to pull away a little bit.”
The Spartans spent much of the week talking about avoiding “turnovers for touchdowns,” as head coach Tom Izzo calls them, referring to turnovers that lead to easy fast-break layups. But Indiana scored eight points off layups from turnovers in the first half helping Indiana take a 44-38 lead at the break.
After grabbing an offensive rebound, senior center Derrick Nix was called for traveling — a play both Nix and Izzo felt should have been a foul on Indiana senior guard Jordan Hulls for reaching in.
The call was one of several to frustrate an MSU team that failed to attempt a free throw in the second half, while the Hoosiers shot 20 times from the charity stripe during the game.
Moments later, a driving layup by sophomore center Cody Zeller extended the Hoosiers’ lead to four, 74-70, triggering an MSU timeout.
With the game on the line, the Spartans turned to their freshman guard and Indiana native, who already had made five 3-pointers on the night.
As the ball left his hand, Gary Harris was sure he made a sixth, but the ball refused to drop.
“Oh, I thought it was in. Yeah, yeah,” Harris said wistfully, his voice trailing off.
“It was tough on us. Keith’s the heart of our team and he’s our leader. He’s the head of the horse. … He didn’t play that many minutes and we still fought hard. I feel like if he doesn’t make some of those silly fouls and he plays more, and if we cut down on some of these turnovers, the game could have gone a different way.”
Still, Izzo looks back on a week that included trips to Wisconsin and Indiana and said he learned he has a group of “fighters,” but he still wants to know how they’ll handle defeat.
“I’m anxious to see what the film looks like, the mistakes look like and then how do we bounce back?” Izzo said. “What do we do tomorrow?”