Monday, January 18, 2021

Column: This Spartan team needs to change their narrative, quick

January 10, 2021
<p>Head Coach Tom Izzo sits and watches Purdue warmup prior to the Spartans&#x27; 55-54 loss to the Boilermakers on Jan. 8, 2021.</p>

Head Coach Tom Izzo sits and watches Purdue warmup prior to the Spartans' 55-54 loss to the Boilermakers on Jan. 8, 2021.

Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

Aaron Henry’s head hung low as he discussed the final seconds of his team's 55-54 loss to Purdue Friday night.

“In those last 20 seconds, they (Purdue) made the effort plays,” Henry said. “... I missed a free throw before that. I missed that floater at the end. Just winning time, and we got to grow from it, watch the film to understand what happened.”

I could write a column breaking down the final seconds of a matchup that put a Breslin center full of family on the edge of their seats and fans at home eye-to-eye with their televisions. 

But the game wasn’t determined in those final 20 seconds. 

Even if MSU had pulled through, even if they had gotten possession following Trevion Williams’ missed free throw and even if Henry had sunk his buzzer-beating jumper in the final second, the struggling No. 23 Michigan State Spartans still blew a 17-point lead.

That should tell you enough.

“You’ll never know how hard it is to lose a game like that when the effort was there, and maybe the skill wasn’t,” Head Coach Tom Izzo said after the game.

This Spartan team is desperately trying to take control of their season narrative once again after starting 0-3 in Big Ten play.

And they almost did it. A win at Nebraska gave the team an inner confidence boost, and when they returned home to defeat No. 15 Rutgers in dominant fashion it felt as if the MSU train was back on its tracks.

But dropping a game to Purdue puts the project that is MSU basketball right back to square one.

The Spartans held Purdue to 33.9% shooting overall and 12.5% from the three. That’s the Boilermakers’ lowest shooting percentages all season, by a fairly significant margin.

Purdue’s 55 points, and a mere 16 in the first half, were the lowest they’ve put up in a Big Ten matchup aside from their loss to Iowa on Dec. 22. 

Early on, the cards, statistically, were falling heavily into Michigan State’s favor. 

But when Purdue began to catch up by turning the page to a polar opposite second-half performance, MSU’s flaws were exposed. They had nobody to turn to. 

If this MSU team wants to turn their season around, somebody needs to step up, consistently. 

The defense is there for the Spartans, and it proved it can win games such as the one against Rutgers. As Izzo said after that victory, this team is back to playing “Michigan State basketball,” but the defense is no longer the problem. 

The issue is that the Spartans have no safety net. 

They lack consistency.

It’s when games come to those determining moments, the ones that make each second feel like an entire half, that each team looks to the guy they can trust. 

MSU doesn’t have that guy.

We know this roster is deep. Each individual has had their fair share of impressive plays, most notably Henry, who carried games for the Spartans on his back, but what's missing is the consistency.

It seems like MSU might have found their point guard in A.J. Hoggard, but as a freshman, Hoggard is still developing. He can't be the offensive general that Cassius Winston was just one year ago, and everyone else can't keep waiting for him to get there.

It's not easy to replicate the play of a two-time All-American.

Izzo and his staff seem to still be playing around with the rotation, leaving fans confused as players like Marcus Bingham Jr., Julius Marble II and Mady Sissoko see their minutes fluctuate on a matchup-to-matchup basis.

It's understandable, in a way. With minimal practice during the offseason and a shortened nonconference schedule, the Spartans might be trying to sort through the issues that have arisen in a year unlike any before, but it's the middle of January, and they might be falling behind in that race.

But true MSU fans know Izzo plays for March. It's not unusual for him to keep some cards in his back pocket for tournament play, but the Spartans recent showings have left many listing this squad as a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament.

It's early, maybe too early, to create that narrative. I for one don't look at the team in that way, but it's crunch time for MSU now. Consistency needs to start falling into place, and Izzo needs to find the guy (or guys) he can trust to take control of the season once again.

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