MSU still can bounce back from loss
Nutritional sciences junior Jon Weiss is interviewed by an ABC channel before the start of the game against Indiana on Feb. 19, 2013, at Breslin Center. Natalie Kolb/The State News
It had all the makings of a magical evening for the No. 4 MSU men’s basketball team.
A magically ecstatic crowd, many of whom waited in the blistering cold of February for hours for a shot at the lower bowl in the Izzone. There was the magical matchup with No. 1 Indiana, marking the first top-5 game in East Lansing in the history of the MSU basketball program. And the stakes couldn’t have been higher, with the winner guaranteed that magic spot atop the Big Ten standings.
Even MSU legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson was on the call of his first-ever collegiate game with ESPN’s Mike Tirico and Dick Vitale, igniting cheers each time he flashed his signature smile.
But after all was said and done, the game turned out far more messy than magical.
Indiana forward Victor Oladipo scored six of his 19 points in the final minute, slamming the door on the Spartans (22-5 overall, 11-3 Big Ten) and allowing the top-ranked Hoosiers (24-3, 12-2) to leave East Lansing with a 72-68 victory. The Hoosiers now have swept the season series with the Spartans and move into sole possession of first place in arguably the nation’s toughest conference.
Although it was a close finish, the Spartans were outhustled and outworked for much of the evening, turning the ball over 12 times — five times to Oladipo, alone — and never matching the level of intensity of their counterpart — a sentiment shared by head coach Tom Izzo after the game.
“We didn’t really play enough of a good game; we just made too many mistakes early,” Izzo said.
“We had some of our key players that weren’t into the game. We had some distractions that really, I think, affected some guys and then we bounced back (in the) second half and played a little bit better but give Indiana credit.”
And the Hoosiers certainly deserve the credit.
In a matchup of two of the nation’s most balanced starting rotations, Indiana had four players score in double figures, including a long-range showcase by guard Jordan Hulls and a gritty 17-point performance by forward Cody Zeller. Moreover, the Hoosiers picked up 12 points off turnovers and outscored the Spartans in second chance and fast break points.
Even with all the success Indiana had, the Spartans held a 67-63 lead with 1:37 to play. From there, Indiana rattled off seven straight points to take the lead and never give it back.
Down the stretch, junior guard Keith Appling missed on a one-and-one free throw opportunity with a chance to stop the bleeding. Trying to tie in the waning moments, freshman guard Gary Harris was fouled on a 3-point attempt but proceeded to miss two of his three shots and the Spartans couldn’t corral the rebound over Oladipo.
Really, it’s hard to fault the Spartans for a collapse at the end. After all, the Hoosiers are a national title contender and have beaten teams this way all season — they’re not No. 1 by accident.
But more than the outcome, it was the effort that irked Izzo after the game.
“Don’t take anything away from Indiana,” Izzo said. “They came into our place, where you should be eight points better, and controlled the large part of the game.
“They outplayed us.”
The game is a minor setback in an otherwise outstanding season for Izzo and the Spartans.
This team still is having one of the best regular seasons in program history with victories against Kansas, Michigan, Ohio State, Texas and Minnesota. Featuring one of the nation’s top starting lineups, the Spartans have weapons most programs would die for.
And better a loss now than in March.
But if the Spartans fail to show up once more in their final four regular season games, it’s going to take far more than magic to get them to where they’d like to go.
Dillon Davis is a State News men’s basketball reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com.