Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Spartans exit tourney with 69-58 loss

March 15, 2002
Head coach Tom Izzo and senior guard Mat Ishbia sit on the bench toward the end of the their first-round loss Friday to N.C. State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Washington, D.C. For Ishbia, the game was his last in a Spartan uniform. —

Washington - The MSU men’s basketball season came to an end Friday with a 69-58 loss to North Carolina State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

After three straight Final Four appearances, a first-round exit by the No. 10 seed Spartans (19-12) was an abrupt finish. Perhaps even more shocking was the way MSU lost.

Entering the second half of play at MCI Center, the Spartans led 30-18. But the Wolfpack (23-10) reversed the momentum early in the second session, outscoring MSU 51-28 to take the win.

“During the first half we had a really hard time cracking them,” Wolfpack head coach Herb Sendek said of the Spartan defense. “I thought they were really well prepared, but I was immensely proud of the way our guys responded in the second half.

“We cut harder, our defense picked up and our guys demonstrated tremendous constitution.”

While the Spartan defense held strong in the first half, the offense never found its grove. MSU shot a miserable 32.1 percent (17-of-53) from the field.

Sophomore guard Marcus Taylor’s struggles highlighted the Spartans shooting woes. Taylor made just 5-of-22 shots, including 3-of-13 from three-point range. He finished the game with 18 points.

But MSU’s defense collapsed in the second, allowing N.C. State to shoot a blistering 66.7 percent from the field.

“In the second half, our defense started slipping,” Taylor said. “Their press really hurt us, it was great strategy. They made us rush some things which took us out of our offense.”

The Wolfpack press forced three-straight Spartan turnovers to start the second half and made it difficult for MSU to stage a comeback. At one point, N.C. State led by as many as 13 points.

With 14:47 left to play, Wolfpack guard Anthony Grundy picked his fourth foul and went to the bench. With N.C. State’s leading scorer, rebounder and distributor out, things looked good for MSU.

But the Spartans failed to capitalize on Grundy’s absence.

“When he had to go out, it was up to us as a team to step up,” Wolfpack guard Julius Hodge said. “When someone goes out we’re strong enough to overcome that and win as a team.”

Along with Grundy, the freshman scored a team-high 16 points for N.C. State.

The Spartans did muster one final offensive surge in the closing minutes.

With 2:37 left to play and MSU trailing by 11 points, freshman guard Chris Hill hit a three-pointer to cut the lead to eight. Junior forward Al Anagonye stole the ensuing inbound pass and found Taylor open for another three.

In just 17 seconds, the Spartans scored six points and cut the lead to 60-55. But the Wolfpack would yield no further.

Hill led MSU with a game-high 21 points. He scored 13 in the first half, including a three-pointer at the buzzer for the 12 point advantage at the intermission.

“Right now that really doesn’t make me feel any better or take the feeling out of my stomach,” Hill said. “It doesn’t matter what I do when we don’t get to advance, we’re done.”

Despite the loss, MSU is 13-3 all-time in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans last first round exit was a 79-72 defeat at the hands of Weber State in 1995. The only other first-round loss came in 1985 to Alabama-Birmingham.

MSU head coach Tom Izzo said the loss is disappointing. But he said his young Spartan squad accomplish more than many believed they would, and the loss can’t take that away.

“It has been a great year for us and I feel bad to end in this kind of a way,” Izzo said. “You have to give North Carolina State a lot of credit.

“When it ends on a sour note it never feels as good, but I have been told by many coaches and many people that as time goes on I will have a better appreciation for what we have accomplished.”

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