If you went to watch the Michigan State men’s basketball game Tuesday night looking for moral victories, you got what you want as a fan, even if Tom Izzo doesn't agree.
Iowa's star center Luka Garza and foul trouble bullied MSU all game. Even if they shot the ball well, shooting 41.4% from deep.
The Spartans played well in their 84-78 road loss at No.8 Iowa, probably even good enough to win, but with the team now 8-7 and 2-7 in Big Ten play it is getting a little too late for moral victories when it comes to playing in the postseason.
For a Spartan program that has made 22 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, they suddenly have found ways to lose games instead of win them. This time, it was the foul trouble and Garza that led to the Spartans’ seventh loss in the last nine games.
With a predictably troublesome matchup against Garza, one of the best players in the country, Izzo decided to shake up the starting lineup giving junior forward Marcus Bingham Jr. the start with a matchup against Iowa's star player.
Junior Thomas Kithier and sophomore Julius Marble II also played significant minutes at the five, but none could slow down Garza, who finished the game with 27 points and 12 rebounds.
The Spartan bigs tried everything they could to try and stop him, double-teaming, fronting in the post, playing physically, but the 6-foot-11 center handled the physicality well, earning 14 shots from the stripe.
Garza only made eight of the 14 free throw attempts, but the Hawkeyes’ 23 makes on 35 attempts from the line were a big factor in the game's outcome.
It is rare for a coach or player to criticize officiating after a game, but Izzo made it clear after the game Tuesday that he was not happy with some of the calls.
“Thirty-five free throws, I mean it’s just jumping and driving into you, foul you, foul you," Izzo said. "And then every time you touched the big guy there was a foul, and I didn’t appreciate that.”
Bingham fouled out of the game with 1:36 left, while Kithier and redshirt junior Joey Hauser were also in foul trouble late with four fouls.
Izzo was forced to rotate his bigs all game long because of the foul trouble, but his biggest frustration was with how it affected the team's ability to fast break.
“The real thing we thought we could do, we thought we could really run,” Izzo said. “But there were so many fouls, but then it stopped and then they put that little pester press on us. I think we had one turnover on that. ... We just could not run because we could not stop them. Everything was a foul, and that’s the way it went.”
The Spartans had it going with the fast break in the first half when they jumped out to a 26-15 lead. But when the fouls started to come in, the game slowed down and went from the fast-paced style that Izzo likes to play to the slower style that Iowa likes.
For the Spartans to go on a run in these last two months and potentially salvage a poor NCAA Tournament resume, they will need to figure things out down low.
They need someone to step up and separate themselves from the pack of Bingham, Kithier, Marble and freshman Mady Sissoko. Kithier and Marble were the bright spots offensively out of those four Tuesday scoring seven and eight points respectively while Bingham and Sissoko failed to score in 14 combined minutes of play.
"I thought Julius after playing very average first half played a lot better the second half," Izzo said.
They need to figure it out fast, and things do not get much easier on the schedule. MSU still has another matchup against Iowa in just a week and half in East Lansing as well as matchups against No. 4 Michigan, No. 7 Ohio State and No. 24 Purdue.
Michigan State has a chance to righten the ship at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday as they will head home to take on Nebraska (4-8).
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