Column: Resiliency defines season, Spartan program in face of defeat
He’d sprinted up and down the sidelines nearly a dozen times, bitten everything he could bite and let nearly every expletive fly.
But after the dust had settled, and he sat on the backseat of a cart with MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis, Tom Izzo’s face had been reduced to a blank stare.
When shot after shot refuses to fall, it’s frustrating.
When, no matter what you try, one player can’t be stopped, it’s maddening.
When the game can’t go more than 15 consecutive seconds without a whistle, it’s infuriating.
And when a fourth member of your starting five becomes a member of the walking wounded, it’s defeating.
Frustrated, mad, infuriated.
It all came together to form one giant mountain too massive for the Spartans to topple Friday night, as the No. 3 seed MSU men’s basketball team (27-9) saw its season come to a close, falling to No. 2 seed Duke (30-5), 71-61, in the Sweet 16 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The Spartans dealt with it all.
A dreadful second half, lowlighted by seven turnovers, 15 fouls and 7-for-23 shooting (30.4 percent) that made victory all but impossible.
A prolific shooting performance from Seth Curry, scoring 29 points behind a career-high tying six 3-pointers.
And sandwiched in between it all, a 93-second stretch where MSU picked up five fouls after already having three players in foul trouble during the first half.
It was all topped off by the most recent bit of news, that junior center Adreian Payne suffered a back injury at practice early in the week that led Izzo to question if he’d even be able to play.
It’s easy for these all to sound like excuses, and to many, they will be.
But it was, in fact, the reality that this team faced Friday night, illuminating an even greater season-long truth — that fighting resiliently before falling nobly was this team’s destiny.
For a program built on relishing the rough road to travel, few teams have had a more burdensome terrain to navigate, and that will be their legacy.
It’s personified in their lone senior, an accomplished, yet underappreciated player who’s accumulated enough battle scars for a lifetime in four years on MSU’s campus, before ultimately coming out the other side.
That’s who this team was.
They fought injuries, inexperience and possibly the toughest Big Ten regular season the conference has ever known and never backed down.
Hell, they even fought each other a couple notable times and weren’t too worse for the wear.
But Friday night, the team that bounced off the canvas more than arguably any other in Izzo’s tenure, finally couldn’t get up.
It’s no doubt disappointing, but shouldn’t be mourned, because although the ultimate goal failed to be reached, in its place, a new definition of Spartan toughness was born.
Josh Mansour is The State News’ men’s basketball reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org