After dropping their season opener and No. 1 ranking to No. 2 Kentucky, Head Coach Tom Izzo wasn’t happy. The players weren’t happy and the fans were frustrated.
Twenty-two fouls, 16 turnovers, a 19.2 three-point percentage, and some ridiculous shots by Kentucky freshman guard Tyrese Maxey lead to the downfall of No. 1.
Even with all these negatives, the game had a silver lining.
The Spartans were getting open looks. Going inside to out, they were able to create open looks, but just may have been taking them from too far out.
“Number one, the number of missed inside-outside shots I was amazed at … Cassius missed two dead knock shots, Xavier missed one, not as good of a shooter, Arnie (Kyle Ahrens) missed one … I have no problem with most of our shot selection,” Izzo said. “The second part, I didn’t realize, sitting at the game, how far out three of those threes were.”
Shots like senior guard Cassius Winston's wide open in the corner should fall a good percentage of the time, but the shots just weren’t falling that night. But to shoot 19.2% from three, and cough the ball up as much as they did, the Spartans managed to stay in the game the entire time, and make it close both in feeling and on the stat sheet.
“Our defense, they shot 38%, we shot 39. Our defense was pretty good. Our rebounding ended up even, that is a much bigger team than us … Disappointed in our shooting, but that’s gonna happen,” Izzo said. “The things I think we could’ve corrected is the turnovers. You can’t correct the missed shots, you just got to shoot the ball better. So I’d say that’s a fair evaluation, that’s the bright spot.”
Credit the Spartans' defense until the very end. They held their own, even when three freshmen were on the court at times, due to foul trouble. Even the three point dagger, with a minute left, that put Kentucky up by five, was strong defense.
Maxey dribbled until there were only five seconds left on the shot clock, then threw up a long, long, strongly contested three by sophomore forward Aaron Henry. It went in. It was just Maxey’s night.
The Spartans saw open looks, but just missed shots. They played strong defense, but fouls and deep threes interfered with their game plan. Even when the shots weren’t falling, the defense got unlucky and foul trouble put players out that should’ve been in, and players in that didn’t expect to see that many minutes. Through it all, the team didn’t give in.
True to Izzo’s blue blood mentality, they showed the “dog” they had in them during this game, and with the target they will have on their back all year, they will have to use it.
“When all else fails, that’s what he instills in us early, that’s why he recruits the people he recruits, fighters and dogs on the court, that are never gonna stop trying and never stop fighting. We gonna go down swinging every time,” Henry said. “That just says a lot, to credit his recruiting, to credit everything he does, and what we stand for as a school. We ain’t never gonna stop fighting.”
Even when they weren’t making shots, the Spartans kept themselves in it against Kentucky. To take the loss with a grain of salt and treat it like a learning experience, there is still a lot of basketball left and if anything, the loss will make this team better.
“We saw the number two team in the country, and we were right with them neck and neck throughout the game … We missed a lot of open shots, that’s a positive we can take from that, we missed a lot of wide open shots,” Henry said.
“When you look at it like that, if those shots go down, I don’t get two fouls and Thomas (Kithier) doesn’t get two fouls, and we not in foul trouble, it’s a whole different game. That’s exactly what it is, and that’s the positive you can take from that. A learning experience … We can learn from it. Better now than later.”
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