Saturday, December 4, 2021

Spartans close season

March 18, 2002
Sophomore gaurd Marcus Taylor looks for an outlet past N.C. State guard Julius Hodge in the Spartans’ 69-58 loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Washington, D.C. Hodge scored a team-high 16 points, while Taylor led the Spartans with 6 assists and no turnovers. —

Washington - Despite a 69-58 loss to North Carolina State in Friday’s first round of the NCAA Tournament, Tom Izzo asked his players to savor the moment.

With 44 seconds remaining and MSU trailing 67-55 at MCI Center, Izzo called a timeout. Knowing defeat was immanent, he didn’t waste time diagramming plays.

Instead, he told his players, “You better sit back where you are and realize what you have to get done if we’re going to get back here and advance, because they took it to us and we didn’t respond the way you need to to advance in this tournament.”

The Spartans (19-12) held a 30-18 halftime advantage, but the Wolfpack (23-11) simply wore MSU down in the second half. N.C. State outscored the Spartans 51-28 after the intermission.

“We felt we did some good things,” junior forward Adam Ballinger said of the season, “fought through adversity, but when it came down to the postseason we just didn’t learn how to step it up and we have to build on that because we do have most of the guys coming back.”

Adversity hit the Spartans hardest in the form of injuries. Both Ballinger and sophomore guard Marcus Taylor missed a combined six games with injuries, and sophomore forward Adam Wolfe was lost for the season Jan. 19 with a torn hamstring.

But MSU fought its way into the postseason, finishing just one game out of first place in the Big Ten.

With the freshman trio of Alan Anderson, Chris Hill and Kelvin Torbert each contributing more than 20 minutes a night, the Spartans looked primed for tournament play as they won their final five regular-season games.

Unlike previous seasons, tournament success alluded MSU. The late-season run gave fans hope, but it was in the tournament that it became clear the loss of seven players from last year’s squad - who made up 81 percent of its scoring and 75 percent of its rebounding - was insurmountable.

Not only did the Spartans’ streak of three-straight Final Fours come to an end, but MSU’s own formula for success was used against it.

“It’s funny, I think they beat us in our own game, wearing people down,” Izzo said. “I just think we were worn out, a lot of guys played a lot of minutes all year.

“I’m not sure these guys have much left, and that’s what you should do, you spend it all and go until you can’t go anymore. I honestly believe for the most part we have.”

Seven different Wolfpack players recorded more than 10 minutes of play and five surpassed 20 minutes. And MSU didn’t have the bodies to keep up.

With depth no longer a luxury for the Spartans, Taylor was forced to play 37 minutes against N.C. State, where he saw a constant defensive press. Taylor’s workload Friday mirrored that of his season, a season in which he averaged 34.3 minutes a game - the most ever by any player under Izzo and the most since former guard Shawn Respert in the 1992-93 season.

“I don’t think I played nearly as good as I could’ve,” Taylor said. “But it was a little difficult when they were sending two or three guys at me.”

Despite shooting 5-of-22 for 18 points and six assists, Izzo said Taylor had one of his best games from a leadership standpoint.

“Missing that many shots, I actually enjoyed the way he played,” Izzo said. “Sometimes I feel like he dragged three people with him, the way he was in the huddle and the way he talked to our guys. He took some things on his shoulders and maybe it didn’t turn out perfect but I think that was another big step for him, as weird as that sounds.

“After the game, before I addressed the team, he addressed them, almost like (former Spartan) Mateen (Cleaves) would, and said, ‘I didn’t play as well as I can play.’ I kind of admired that.”

While Izzo’s praise for Taylor came immediately after the season, he said it will take at least a week to recognize the team’s combined achievements.

“I would never give them that credit during the year because that’s my style,” Izzo said. “But when it’s over and I get a chance to sit back I think they’ll admire what we did under the circumstances.

“I do think I’ll be able to look back and say that this team has accomplished as much as any from an adversity standpoint. I’m sure I’ll appreciate them a lot more a week from now.”

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