Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Wolfpack defense looks to harass U

March 14, 2002

If what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, the Spartan men’s basketball team can find strength in its loss to Indiana in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament last Friday.

The Spartans (19-11) came out lethargic and couldn’t match the Hoosiers’ high intensity. The result: a 67-56 loss where MSU committed 21 turnovers.

Leading into the loss, MSU was on a five-game winning streak where they never committed more than 15 turnovers.

Sophomore guard Marcus Taylor turned the ball over six times against the Hoosiers’ pressure defense and said his 10th-seeded team cannot make the same mistakes when it battles No. 7 seed North Carolina State on Friday in the first round of NCAA Tournament action.

“We have to make it a learning experience,” Taylor said. “We have to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes that we did against Indiana.”

The Wolfpack (22-10) use a similar defensive principle as the Hoosiers - hard-nosed man-to-man pressure defense.

“We have to play very gritty and tough on both ends of the floor,” Wolfpack guard Archie Miller said. “We’re going to do exactly what we’ve been doing.

“There has to be a certain toughness level that you have to compete at for us to be a successful team.”

The Wolfpack average more steals (7.9 per game) and forced turnovers (13.5 per game) than the Hoosiers and will try to hassle the Spartan ballhandlers when the two teams meet.

Taylor said MSU has to respond differently to N.C. State’s defense than they did to Indiana’s.

“They’re very athletic and they press up as soon as you cross half-court,” Taylor said. “It’s going to be a tougher game on the guards, and we have to make sure we protect the ball and cut down on the turnovers.”

Spartan head coach Tom Izzo said it’s no secret that turnovers play a crucial factor on the final outcome of his team’s games.

“It’s a concern because I think if you look at our turnovers in our wins and losses, there is a direct correlation,” he said. “I think when we turn the ball over quite a bit it’s almost an automatic (loss).”

But pressure doesn’t guarantee MSU will turn over the ball. Izzo said his team has handled the press well at times and turned over the ball against teams that don’t defend with much pressure - citing MSU’s 26 turnovers against Syracuse, a 69-58 loss on Nov. 21.

Taylor said MSU ran into a defensive pressure against Indiana, but many of the turnovers could have been avoided.

“They played great defense, but I think it was our mental mistakes that hurt us,” he said. “We made some unnecessary turnovers and they played some tight defense and sometimes we got rattled.”

Associate head coach Brian Gregory said pressure-defense disrupting the Spartans’ offense has been an area of worry all season.

“That’s been one of the things all year long as something we needed to focus on - being able to handle defensive pressure man-to-man,” Gregory said. “It goes at our inexperience and our lack of depth.”

But Gregory said MSU has been able to capitalize on high-pressure defenses at times, and doing so against the Wolfpack is critical.

“They can’t pressure on the outside and guard us on the inside,” he said. “That’s one area where our inside guys need to step up.

“We’ve got to make sure we take advantage of that.”

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