Men's basketball's poor starts could be cause for concern
The No. 5 men’s basketball team has a few bad tendencies. Turnovers have been a highly-publicized area of concern for the Spartans throughout the season, but another troublesome habit has ladened the squad lately.
After successfully closing out Penn State at the Breslin Center on Wednesday, MSU has now won its last five games. But in the team's last two outings, players have needed to rally from a double-digit deficit.
On Wednesday night, the Spartans trailed the Nittany Lions by 12 points with just over 15 minutes remaining in the contest, before proceeding to outscore Penn State 47-27 the rest of the way. This came three days after MSU needed to rally from a 13-point halftime deficit at the XFINITY Center to defeat Maryland.
“I don’t know why we got off to such a poor start, which we’ve done that a couple games now,” head coach Tom Izzo said in his postgame press conference. “I think that falls on me, the coach's job is to get his team ready to play.”
At around the seven minute mark in the first half against the Nittany Lions, MSU tallied just 12 points and went through a scoring drought of almost five minutes at one point in the half.
Izzo insinuated that the Spartans’ lack of early offense was because of the team’s lack of effort to start.
“What we’re confused about is, the players actually have practiced harder than they played in the opening 10 minutes, which doesn’t make any sense,” Izzo said.
MSU’s second half rally wasn’t the only instance during Wednesday’s game in which the Spartans chopped down a double-digit deficit, as the team trailed the Nittany Lions 28-18 just before the intermission but found themselves down by just six when the first half buzzer sounded.
“The way we kind of battled back about three different times, I think shows some character in our guys and I was impressed with a lot of different guys,” Izzo said.
Point guard Cassius Winston and forward Miles Bridges were two of the main players Izzo credited the team’s comeback to, as the sophomores both scored the majority of their points when the team needed them the most.
Twelve of Winston’s 15 points came in the second half, and 14 of Bridges’ team-high 23 points also came in the final period. Bridges helped bring MSU to within four points of Penn State after connecting on a 3-pointer, and his teammate followed suit a few possessions later, as Winston knocked down a close-range jump shot to tie the contest at 41 points a piece, completing a 12-0 run by the team.
After the game, a relieved Winston voiced his pleasure with the comeback victory but still put things into perspective going forward in regards to the team’s recent slow starts to games.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to bring that in the first (half)," Winston said. "It’s fun to come back and win and all, but that’s just not the situation that we want to be in.”
Bridges, like his head coach, credited the Spartans’ porous start to a lack of energy among he and his teammates, and even admitted to the team maybe looking past a Penn State squad that came into Wednesday’s game with eight losses on the season.
“I feel like it’s just in warm-ups, we come out a little casual,” Bridges said. “I think we took this team a little lightly. We knew they would come out like that, but we took them a little lightly.”
One team MSU can’t take lightly however, is No. 3 Purdue, who the Spartans will welcome into the Breslin in nine days for a heavyweight matchup and the two teams’ first and only meeting in the regular season.
The Boilermakers have been consistent and dominant all season, and while the Spartans have just one more loss, Purdue has played better basketball as of late. The Boilermakers have won 18 consecutive games and are unblemished (11-0) in conference play thus far.
“It’s important that we play these two games and had to go through what we had to go through, because we understand that we can’t come out slow like we did in the first half,” sophomore guard Joshua Langford said.
The last two games could have indeed been the wake-up call MSU needed as the team prepares for a matchup with conference-leading Purdue, but sophomore forward Nick Ward said he hopes the team kicks its recent bad habit now before it’s too late.
“If we start off slow against better teams, it’s going to put us in a hole,” Ward said.