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Column: MSU men's hoops finds ways to lose instead of ways to win, and that isn't changing

February 17, 2021

The Spartans, after leading by double-digits for most of the game, lost to Purdue in the final seconds of the game.

MSU men's basketball Head Coach Tom Izzo entered a press conference following his teams 75-65 loss to Purdue Tuesday night opening with this:

“We’re finding ways to lose games instead of finding ways to win games.”

He’s right. The Spartans played right next to the Boilermakers.

MSU never trailed by more than 12 points. They held a 36-28 edge on the boards. They made twice as many three’s than Purdue, shooting 43.8% from deep next to Purdue’s 25%. 

They hung around, just like they did with Wisconsin on Christmas, or Ohio State on Jan. 31, or even Iowa on Feb. 2.

It’s a familiar theme. MSU has found more ways to lose this season than they have to win and unfortunately for the Spartans, it may be too late to find that answer. 

The Spartans' heart has been in question following blow-out losses like their 88-58 shellacking against Iowa. A defeat so brutal it recorded Izzo's worst home loss in his 26-year tenure.

But the heart wasn’t a problem against Purdue.

MSU played hard, battling in the paint to grab 11 offensive rebounds to put up 18-second chance points. Sophomore guard Julius Marble showed no fear, fighting his way to the hoop for 10 points in a statement performance at Mackey Arena. 

“I wouldn’t let anybody on the court that doesn’t want to fight,” junior forward Aaron Henry said, simply, of his team's drive despite what looks like it will be a gloomy off-season.

The effort was there against Purdue, but the skill, the team chemistry, the lineup just wasn’t.

And maybe it hasn’t been there all year. 

Three months into one of the most absurd basketball seasons anyone has ever witnessed, MSU still hasn’t figured it out.

The point guard question, the one many thought would be resolved week three, isn’t.

"We have to find a way to win and some of that is going to be not with throwing it inside to a go-to guy, we need better guard play," Izzo admitted Tuesday.

Granted, guards Foster Loyer and Rocket Watts saw minimal minutes at Purdue due to injury and illness, but regardless the position hasn't stayed consistent throughout the season.

Or what about who to put at the five? That’s a surprise that's revealed each game. Junior forward/center Marcus Bingham Jr. looked like he could be the guy, but Mady Sissoko made himself a promising case Tuesday night.

"He's gonna play more," Izzo said of Sissoko.

Sitting at 10-9 overall and 4-9 in the Big Ten, the Spartans are still confused and there's not much room to fix it.

On deck for MSU are matchups against Indiana, No. 5 Illinois, No. 4 Ohio State, Maryland and No. 3 Michigan. The Spartans can't continue to be this shaky against three of the top five teams in the country.

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So will the Spartans figure it out?

This year it's doubtful. But that doesn't put the program at risk.

Entering this season without their key players from the 2019-20 squad, this team needed time to grow, but that time simply wasn't available with COVID-19 protocols.

We've seen spurts from the Spartans young talent and its skills are ones I think to hold promise.

I've approached each game hopeful the Spartans will come out looking like a team more sure of themselves, but as the season nears its conclusion I'm not sure that comfort will come from this squad.

That's not to say MSU will hang up their jerseys, they'll show up and I'll bet they put up a good fight in their next games, but at this point in their season, they may focus on developing their young players over desperately shuffling through old rotations that truly just haven't clicked.

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