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MSU falls to North Carolina 67-55 in Carrier Classic

November 11, 2011
Head coach Tom Izzo reacts to a call made by the referees on Friday evening for the Quicken Loans Carrier Classic onboard the U.S.S. Carl Vinson at Naval Base Coronado in Coronado, CA. The Tar Heels defeated the Spartans, 67-55. Josh Radtke/The State News
Head coach Tom Izzo reacts to a call made by the referees on Friday evening for the Quicken Loans Carrier Classic onboard the U.S.S. Carl Vinson at Naval Base Coronado in Coronado, CA. The Tar Heels defeated the Spartans, 67-55. Josh Radtke/The State News —
Photo by Josh Radtke | and Josh Radtke The State News

San Diego — Even on a night when he played the first outdoor college basketball game on an aircraft carrier and met the President of the United States, freshman guard Travis Trice wanted just a little bit more.

Trice and the MSU men’s basketball team took on No. 1 North Carolina in the Quicken Loans Carrier Classic on Friday aboard the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego. The Spartans battled to the end but lost, 67-55, and Trice said the only thing that could have made the night better was putting a mark in the win column.

“It was great,” Trice said. “You can’t make up a better first game, but I wish we could have came out and won. It still hurts that we lost tonight.”

Prior the game, President Barack Obama talked to both teams before addressing the crowd of 8,111 on the flight deck of the Carl Vinson. There was a flyover, and all the pageantry you’d expect out of such an event.

But in the early stages of the game, the play on the floor didn’t quite stack up. Both teams struggled to get in an offensive flow while adjusting to the unfamiliar surroundings.

North Carolina scored the first six points of the game before the Spartans responded with seven of their own.

And while MSU’s shooters continued to struggle — shooting 10-for-36 (27.8 percent) in the first half — the Spartans competed with the Tar Heels in the first half by dominating the offensive glass.

On the way to building a 15-8 lead about eight minutes into the game, MSU grabbed nine offensive rebounds. Overall, the Spartans outrebounded the Tar Heels 27-17 in the first 20 minutes.

“(North Carolina) gets the first two of the game, and then we dominated the first half,” Izzo said. “I thought that was great.”

Izzo also was pleased with the way his team defended the Tar Heels in transition, where they tend to do most of their damage.

“I thought the key to the game going in would be transition defense, and believe it or not, I thought ours was great,” Izzo said. “They scored some on turnover at half court God couldn’t have stopped, but I thought we did a pretty good job there.”

Still, a combination of North Carolina’s athleticism and MSU’s inability to shoot the ball began to take over late in the first half.

The Spartans led 19-17 with less than six minutes to play in the half, but the Tar Heels scored the next nine points to build their biggest lead of the game to that point.

It didn’t get much better from there, as North Carolina built a 36-25 lead heading into the break.

Senior forward Draymond Green said the shooting problems started in exhibition season, and they’re starting to become an “epidemic.”

We can’t shoot the ball like that,” Green said. “We just have to get in the gym and put up more and more shots and game like shots.”

The poor shooting did not get much better in the second half, though. And as the Spartans continued to shoot poorly, North Carolina began to find its rhythm.

The Tar Heels, behind eight second-half points from both Harrison Barnes and John Henson, built a 20-point lead in the second half.

However, using a 10-0 run, MSU was able to cut the lead to 10, 59-49 with a little more than six minutes to play.

Trice said that ability to fight back is something fans should get used to seeing if the Spartans ever find themselves down.

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“A lot of people say a lot of stuff about our team,” Trice said. “We’re young, we don’t have a lot of experience. But one thing we showed tonight, we’re not going to give up. No matter what the score is, no matter how much time is left, we’re going to keep fighting.”

MSU did fight, but the deficit proved to be too much against arguably the most talented team in the country, as the Tar Heels iced the game away with late free throws.

Barnes led all scorers with 17 points. Green finished with a double-double, scoring 13 points and grabbing a career-high 18 rebounds. Sophomore center Adriean Payne and freshman guard Branden Dawson each scored 10 and senior guard Brandon Wood chipped in with seven.

For Izzo, the game was more about the experience and giving back to the thousands of troops in attendance on Veterans Day. But with his team now having to prepare for a matchup with No. 6 Duke on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, Izzo said he was pleased with what he saw on the floor, too.

“We got something out of this game,” Izzo said. “We competed. And I think our players knew there was a different look in our team than we had last year, and that’s what’s important to me right now.”

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