Saturday, July 24, 2021

A team that isn't used to losing gets wakeup call as MSU squeaks by Nebraska

February 7, 2021
Grad student guard Joshua Langford (1) talks to his team before a free-throw during the game against Nebraska on February 6, 2021 at the Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Cornhuskers 66-56.
Grad student guard Joshua Langford (1) talks to his team before a free-throw during the game against Nebraska on February 6, 2021 at the Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Cornhuskers 66-56. —
Photo by Lauren Snyder | The State News

MSU men’s basketball Head Coach Tom Izzo opened a press conference after his team’s 66-56 victory over Nebraska with this:

“You gotta learn how to win, you gotta learn how to lose.”

Despite clinching their first victory since Jan. 5 on Saturday night, MSU’s confidence against Nebraska looked shaken. After opening on a 7-0 run the Spartan offense went cold. The trend of sloppy ball-handling continued and they ended the night tying their season-high 22 turnovers.

“We got a win, so we can take a deep breath but also at the same time we don’t want to get complacent," guard Josh Langford said post-game. "But, we do want to enjoy the win because we haven’t had a win.”

Izzo described the locker room as “dead,” before the game. He said he didn’t feel like his team was ready to play, and that translated.

It wasn’t the first time MSU’s energy lacked this season, the players admitted it after losing 67-37 to Rutgers on Jan. 29. 

MSU looks unsteady and in a way rightfully so.

Sitting at 3-7 in the conference is an uncomfortable spot for MSU men’s basketball and is one they aren't used to. It’s a place Izzo hasn’t been to in his 26 years of head coaching and it’s a spot that many of MSU’s athletes have never been at in their lives. 

“There is a little pressure on us, and I like that," Izzo said. "Maybe this team needed to have a little pressure on it."

MSU’s recruits come from some of the top high school basketball programs in the country. MSU’s recruits aren’t used to losing.

Sophomore guard Rocket Watts went to SPIRE Academy, a school that's niche is training student-athletes for excellence. He ended his senior season on a team with a 17-2 overall record.

Freshman guard A.J. Hoggard attended Huntington Prep, a school with a top ten basketball program in the nation, and home of MSU alum Miles Bridges. He ended his senior year 22-9.

The list goes on outside of specialized academies. 

Junior guard Foster Loyer and forward Thomas Kithier went to Clarkston High School in Michigan. They ended their senior year with a 26-1 record and a State Champion trophy in their hands, even though Kithier didn't play due to MHSAA rulings on his decision to transfer from Macomb-Dakota High School.

Junior forward Aaron Henry attended Ben Davis high school in Indianapolis, Indiana. He ended his senior season with a 21-6 record.

Many of these athletes can count the number of losses they’ve had in their lives with their fingers. So dropping four-straight in conference play leading up to Saturday put them in an uphill battle that many of them have never climbed before.

“I think it was an uphill battle, mentally, for me personally," Langford said. "Then also as a team we just wanted to have the mindset to try and keep moving forward.”

That's a mindset Langford has preached as of late. Living in the moment and not losing yourself in the past.

“It’s difficult but at the end of the day we knew we were going to have more games to play," Langford said. "We can’t change the past; we can only learn from it, and so the best thing we can do is keep trying to move forward and keep learning."

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