Head coach Tom Izzo knew his No. 6 MSU men’s basketball team couldn’t beat No. 1 Duke if the Spartans couldn’t take care of the ball — something they’ve struggled to do this season.
And on Wednesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., Izzo was proven correct, as MSU (5-2) committed 20 turnovers on the way to losing to the Blue Devils, 84-79.
“When you look at it in general, I thought we played awfully good other than the turnovers and a few bad plays,” Izzo told Spartan Sports Network after the game. “And that’s disappointing.”
In almost every other aspect of the game, the Spartans did deliver a solid performance against the defending national champion Blue Devils (7-0).
As the case has been all season, MSU was lights out shooting, going 31-for-63 from the floor (49.2 percent) and 9-for-17 from the 3-point line (52.9 percent). And to Izzo’s delight, the Spartans also outrebounded the Duke, 35-30, including 15-11 on the offensive boards, after struggling on the glass in the early season.
But the turnover bug Izzo was concerned about before the game bit the Spartans early, as MSU gave the ball away five times in the first five minutes. However, behind the strong play of junior guard Korie Lucious, the Spartans were able to take a 17-15 lead with 11 minutes to play in the first half.
While MSU’s top scorers coming into the game — senior guards Durrell Summers and Kalin Lucas and junior forward Draymond Green — combined for only seven first-half points, Lucious scored 13 in the first 20 minutes and finished with 20 points.
“Korie played awfully well,” Izzo said. “Kalin looked a little tired, but Korie did a heck of a job.”
Lucious, though, was no match for Duke freshman guard Kyrie Irving, who had a career-high 18 points in the first half alone before finishing the game with 31 points, which led all scorers.
Irving, along with 22 Duke points off 12 Spartans’ turnovers, helped the Blue Devils take a 38-34 lead into halftime.
MSU continued to keep things competitive in the final 20 minutes, and even cut the lead to 49-47 on a Summers 3-pointer with less than 15 minutes left after Duke had jumped out to a double-digit lead.
But following the Summers basket, the Spartans never were able to get back to within less than three points as the Blue Devils went on to win their 81st consecutive nonconference home game.
Along with Lucious’ 20 points, Green scored 16, with 11 coming in the final 1:38. The usually-reliable Green also led MSU with five turnovers.
“Draymond came back in the second half,” Izzo said. “But we had a few too many turnovers from him.”
MSU moves to 4-16 all-time when playing the No. 1 team in the country, with the last win coming against Louisville in the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
The Spartans come home to take on Bowling Green at 1 p.m. Saturday at Breslin Center.
Izzo, who has repeatedly said he strives for his program to be like Duke’s, was optimistic about the Spartans’ performance despite the loss because of the way they competed with the best team in the country.
“As I told the team, for the way we turned it over, I was very proud of how we played,” Izzo said. “We can play with Duke. That’s encouraging.”
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