MSU basketball's lack of upperclassmen help, toughness lead to upset loss to Northeastern
With 5:33 left in regulation, the contest was still up in the air, the MSU men's basketball team trailing 64-59 to a Northeastern squad looking to claw its way to its sixth win of the season. Ball in hand, fifth-year senior Eron Harris took a shot from downtown to try and pull the Spartans within striking distance.
Harris snagged a rebound following Northeastern’s next possession and a timeout was called shortly after with 5:08 to play.
From there, Harris was out and freshman guard Joshua Langford was in. Harris’ night was over — he remained benched for the rest of the game as the Huskies pried an eight-point victory out of the hands of the Spartans at the Breslin Center, while the home team dropped to 7-5 overall.
“You want to know why (Harris) didn’t play?” head coach Tom Izzo asked rhetorically in accordance to the last few minutes of the game during his postgame press conference. “He didn’t guard, he didn’t play very hard, he didn’t play very smart, he took a couple bad shots and he wasn’t playing the way he has to play.”
Harris finished the night shooting 36.4 percent from the field, 2-for-6 from 3-point range for 11 points and two turnovers in 23 minutes on the floor. But it wasn’t solely Harris’ performance that led to a loss to the Huskies, Izzo said, but rather a lackadaisical performance around the board.
Other upperclassmen missed opportunities as well. Redshirt-sophomore forward Kenny Goins shot 3-for-6 from the field, but missed a slam dunk. Junior guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. failed to convert on either shooting attempt while turning the ball over twice. Senior guard Alvin Ellis III played for five minutes and finished with two points and senior forward Matt Van Dyk finished second on the team with six rebounds and three points.
“We had a six-point lead with everything going our way,” Izzo said. “They hit a big shot. If you look at the next three minutes, everything went wrong. It had nothing to do with Harris or this guy. We missed some free throws, we missed a dunk. I mean, we missed a dunk. We missed a layup. We are not good enough to overcome those things. It has nothing to do with anything except the guys have to play better and we have to coach better.”
Izzo also cited the team’s inability to make plays in unfavorable matchups or with inconsistent performances with different lineups on the floor. The Spartans allowed the Huskies to convert on 11-of-23 field goal shots from beyond the arc, which Izzo said came from a lack of toughness.
“Right now we’re struggling with a couple guys that I think have to play well for us to win,” Izzo said. “So, I changed up the lineup at halftime. It wasn’t all good, it wasn’t all bad, but I might change it again. I just wasn’t satisfied with the level of toughness that we didn’t display. That is never something that this program stands for.”
As for MSU’s freshmen, guard Cassius Winston led the team with 33 minutes on the floor, making 7-of-8 shots from the field, including two triples for 21 points and 10 assists. Forward Nick Ward finished with 15 points, a team-high seven rebounds and six blocks.
“We’ve got great leaders, we’ve got people that have been there in those situations,” Winston said. “We’ve just got to step up to the plate. Dig deep in ourselves — each and every one of us. Once that happens we are going to bring it together.”
The Spartans are a cohesive group, but they need to still work on improving, Nairn said. Nairn, the team’s second-best assisting passer. said the team needs to be better at translating its work in practice-to-game situations.
“I’m disappointed in the way I played because this was a big game for us and we needed to win this game, and I didn’t do the things I needed to do as far as running this team,” Nairn said. “We just have to play the right way. We had a great week in practice, we just have to take that to the floor and play Spartan basketball.”