Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Column: Michigan State will continue to fall unless Tillman makes threes

February 17, 2020
<p>Junior forward Xavier Tillman (right) is defended by Maryland’s Donta Scott (left). The Spartans fell to the Terrapins, 60-67, at the Breslin Student Events Center on Feb. 15, 2020. </p>

Junior forward Xavier Tillman (right) is defended by Maryland’s Donta Scott (left). The Spartans fell to the Terrapins, 60-67, at the Breslin Student Events Center on Feb. 15, 2020.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

Junior forward Xavier Tillman recalled his understanding of the word “Redemption” following his second-chance, game-sealing slam in Champaign against Illinois on Tuesday.

Tillman continued to express this definition Saturday in MSU's 67-60 loss to Maryland, as he led the Spartans with 18 points and maintained aggression through 40 minutes to provide timely baskets on pure post touches.

Maryland extended their lead to as much as 15, but this time, Tillman was the guy keeping the Spartans in the contest.

“(Tillman), looks on paper like he had a good game.” coach Tom Izzo said postgame. “But those plays at the end, the blurs, the double screen on Rocket. I probably played (Tillman) too much. He's got a lot going on.”

As Izzo alluded, a wide-open Jalen Smith three halted the Spartans’ 6-0 run — and their scoring altogether — and cut their lead to 60-56 with 3:08 to play.

But what Tillman failed to redeem in the ensuing possession will continue to plague MSU until he does, missing the wide open three that would’ve answered Smith before Anthony Cowan Jr.’s solo 11-0 run to close the game.

Less glaring but arguably more crucial than Tillman’s missed layups over the Spartans’ three-game losing streak were misses like the one that came with 2:43 to play and a four-point lead.

The Spartans had what seemed like infinite opportunities to regain the lead in Madison as Tillman made one three-pointer on four attempts, all of which were good looks. Wisconsin inevitably double-teamed Winston on the final possessions, daring Tillman to shoot another. He also passed on a wide-open three with under two minutes to play. 

Tillman was fortunate to get the post touches in the spots he did, too, but missed multiple point-blank finishes in the one-point loss.

This time, MSU had a four-point lead, but couldn’t convert on any of its last five attempts. This Spartan team has dropped more than three percent from its former 37.8% three-point average without the services of Matt McQauid and Kenny Goins. As they continually fail to assemble a complete performance, and of recent, fail to close a game out, threes like those need to fall. 

Winston drew a double team and missed a desperation heave that all in the building knew he was taking, and MSU dropped its fourth in the last five games; Maryland coach Mark Turgeon joked that he didn’t wish to reveal his strategy to “let anybody but Cassius Winston” beat them before acknowledging the apparent truth that teams will continue to double-team Winston and encourage open Tillman attempts.

“You've got to do that as a coach, “ Turgeon said. “Tillman took the wide open three and missed it and it was a little bit off. That's really when I decided (to double-team Winston)."

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