No. 1 Spartans fall to UNC after slow start
State News basketball reporters Matt Sheehan and Zach Smith analyze what went wrong for MSU in their loss to North Carolina, and Tom Izzo discusses the team’s performance in a post-game press conference.
The No. 1 men’s basketball team walked onto the court in kryptonite-colored socks for their highly-anticipated Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup against North Carolina.
However, the Superman of college hoops walked off the court with their first loss of the season to UNC, 79-65. The Spartans never led during a game that showcased some of MSU’s most troubling tendencies on the season thus far.
“They took it to us,” head coach Tom Izzo said. “We haven’t been practicing really well, and they’re not playing really well either. I can’t think of a time I’ve been more disappointed in myself.”
After the loss sophomore guard Travis Trice sat in a somber locker room filled with players in disbelief and anger.
“After the game we were sitting here like ‘what just happened?’” Trice said. “Everyone was kind of stunned … in front of a packed house, ESPN on a late night game, (and) we just laid an egg.”
The game started just as poorly as it possibly could have for MSU and had the packed Breslin Center in a restless frenzy almost immediately.
Junior forward Alex Gauna, who got the start in place of ill sophomore forward Matt Costello, started the game by committing two fouls and a turnover within the first 90 seconds.
“I told Alex, ‘you know if you play in big games, I don’t care how cool you are or how casual you are, if you’re not physically excited, than this isn’t a good place for you,’” Izzo said.
MSU went on to turn the ball over eight times in the first half, four of which came in the first five minutes, and allowed UNC to grab 10 offensive rebounds on the half.
Senior guard Keith Appling silenced the crowd when he went down with a hip injury in the first half, but later checked back in. He finished with 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting.
“He’s about as tough a guy as I got,” Izzo said. “I’m sure he’ll be sore, but he’s got some days to recover.”
Despite the abysmal start for the Spartans, they climbed back into the game late in the first half to tie the game at 32 apiece at halftime.
However, the momentum gained at the end of the first half quickly vanished, as UNC’s Marcus Paige buried a three-pointer to start the second. Harris rebutted with a 3-pointer of his own, but UNC followed with an 8-0 run and never let off the gas pedal.
“It’s almost like we came out of the second half still stiff and still not ready to play,” Trice said. “I think right away we had a couple of turnovers and they had a couple of easy buckets, and we look up and we’re down six and you’re like ‘we just fought all this way to get back, and now we’re just giving it right back to then.’”
Five Tarheels finished in double digits on the game, with freshman forward Brice Johnson leading the pack at 14 points. UNC also dominated MSU on the boards, out-rebounding them 49-38.
The win gives UNC head coach Roy Williams a staggering 7-1 record against MSU. The Tarheels have been giving the Spartans a headache since 2000, compiling a seven-game win streak in that span.
“My players have played better on game days than his players have,” Williams said. “That’s the bottom line. I’m not a better coach than Tom Izzo by any means. Just on that one game day, my teams have played really well.”
Harris scored 17 points in his first game in 10 days after nursing an ankle injury, but on an underwhelming 5-of-15 clip.
The ailing Costello, who said he has been under the weather since their games in Brooklyn, N.Y., was named the one bright spot for MSU by Izzo.
“I’m just ticked that we lost,” Costello said. “We lost by 10, we should have won — we are a better team, but we just played like crap.”
The Spartans will go on a hiatus before their next game against Oakland at The Palace of Auburn Hills on Dec. 14 at 4 p.m.