Turnovers aplenty: Duke zone forces wrinkles in MSU game plan
CHICAGO — As No. 2 MSU waged war with the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils in another Champions Classic matchup, the hype surrounding the game reached its tipping point — right at tipoff, of course.
But following an 88-81 loss, one where the Blue Devils pulled away late, head coach Tom Izzo addressed the media visibly frustrated. He spoke of a myriad of issues his team faced, saying the Spartans played just “okay.”
Then he pointed at some of the problems they faced.
“I said turnovers, foolish ones,” Izzo said of one of his two keys of the game. “We knew we were going to get some of that zone. It was pretty good and long.”
And the Spartans did see that Blue Devil zone — early and often.
“I’ll be honest with you, we haven’t faced a zone much,” Izzo said. “And give them credit, they played it whole the game.”
Izzo said he wanted to force Duke to play its hand and play man-to-man, but the Spartans were never able to extend their lead large enough to do so.
MSU’s largest lead was by just four points as the game featured a multitude of runs. In the second half, Duke had a run of its own to open up a lead, but the Spartans punched right back to tie the game.
While the game featured a seesaw affair between top-ranked teams, the Blue Devils closed it out. It was capped off by a Grayson Allen 3-pointer that put them up seven with just over a minute to play.
“At the same time we got to deal with it, the ups and downs of basketball,” sophomore guard Joshua Langford said. “It’s a game of runs, you have ups and downs. So I think we just got to learn how to adjust to that better."
And as sophomore guard Cassius Winston and his offense looked to solve Duke’s zone early, a glaring issue came with it — the length.
“It’s just hard to simulate a zone like that in practice,” Winston said. “How long it was, how many athletes they have. You can try, but it’s hard to simulate that.”
On their roster, the Blue Devils feature five players 6-foot-10 or taller — and all five of them saw some kind of action during the game. While the Spartans have revamped depth in their frontcourt, foul trouble still plagued the squad down the stretch.
For MSU’s part, it made a number of mistakes against that zone, turning the ball over 17 times compared to Duke’s nine. In turn, the Blue Devils scored 19 points off the Spartan miscues.
“They probably played it a little bit more than we expected,” Winston said. “Playing straight up and a little bit more man, but they didn’t and that’s okay. We still have to figure how to slice it up. It took us a little while but we got good looks, obviously you got to knock shots down.”
Multiple Spartans admitted they didn’t play close to their best game. Though Winston did stress it was still early in the season.
“This is nowhere near the team we’re going to be at the end of the season,” Winston said. “It’s early, we got a lot to learn, a lot to grow as a team. But we want to play the best and we want to beat the best.”