With Michigan State losing to Northwestern in the fading minutes of a dismal first half, fifth year guard Casey Simmons pulled up for a corner three, his only attempt from deep all game. Senior center Marcus Bingham Jr. — mired in a half that saw him hopping on and off the bench more than any other this season — met him at the arc and abruptly swatted Simmons’ attempt firmly into the stands.
Bingham then proceeded to commit an offensive foul on a subsequent possession and got yanked from an unenergetic and unproductive half for good. Even as junior center Julius Marble II put up a career-high 18 points, Northwestern later upset Michigan State 64-62 at the Breslin Center without their leading scorer, the first time such an event has happened since Jan. 21, 2009.
The hallmarks of Michigan State basketball’s current woes were firmly on display: 17 total turnovers (12 in the first half), rebounding (Northwestern had 17 offensive boards to Michigan State’s 8), lackluster defense feeding off mediocre offense and the feeling that players were getting outplayed more often than not.
Louder this time: THUD.
Back to the block, though. Bingham’s gesture encapsulated the loss more than anything else: a faint glimmer of the rim-protecting, dominant Bingham from earlier in the season, one that surpassed all expectations early on and now knows that it’s better than just providing said glimmer on a team that mirrored his upper trajectory. Michigan State started unranked but rose steadily up the rankings, garnering plenty of buzz as they navigated a brutal non-conference schedule and put their identity and a nice string of wins together.
But now, with Big Ten play in full swing, the team has stumbled. The turnovers finally became too many. The second chance points grew a lead that couldn’t be overcome. And Michigan State took their first loss since Nov. 26, 2021.
“This is no surprise,” Izzo said. “We’ve been living on borrowed time.”
Redshirt junior forward and captain Malik Hall wasn’t shocked by the result either.
“We got what we deserved today,” Hall said.
Izzo, Hall and senior forward and captain Gabe Brown all pointed to a flat start as the undoing of the team, with players “walking around” the court as the Wildcats started issuing blows for their statement win. It’s a trend that’s endured over the past few games with the Spartans slumping on effort-related parts of the game and while redshirt senior Joey Hauser’s buzzer-beating lay-in against Minnesota delayed it, they finally got bit for it.
“I can take the blame for a lot of things and I will,” Izzo said. “But effort-related stats — I don’t get the play. That one, I think players have to take some responsibility for.”
No aspect of the game communicated this better than Michigan State’s rebounding performance. The Spartans got outrebounded 40-35 with 17 offensive rebounds on Northwestern’s end, providing them with 17 more chances to keep slugging away.
Izzo said the offensive rebounding deficit against Northwestern made him feel “about as poor as I’ve felt since I’ve taken this job” while Marble, Michigan State’s lone bright spot on Saturday, said their performance on the offensive glass was “embarrassing” and agreed with his coach's condemnation of it.
“Like (Izzo) said, last couple of weeks, he’s been talking about how we look complacent, we look comfortable,” Marble said. “And I think we needed this right now, rather earlier than later so we can figure it out.”
Some of Michigan State’s struggles also stem from what Izzo has previously identified as the lack of a true leader on the team to pull it together when things are going poorly. When asked about not having currently having that presence, he emphasized the need for a different kind of leadership than the one they have now.
“It’s one thing to be a leader, a good guy. There’s another thing to hold people accountable by saying ‘no, this is how we’re going to do it,’” Izzo said. “And I don’t think we have that.”
Izzo did credit Hall for his leadership by speaking up after the game about how Northwestern wanted the win more than them. For his part, Hall preached the need for greater effort from his team in the future.
“Going forward, we just need to get everybody to buy in and go 100% when you’re in the game,” he said. “If you’re going 100% for two minutes, it’s better than you going 50% for four. You’re gonna mess up in that four minutes rather than that two.”
Brown’s been on the shortlist to become Michigan State’s true alpha since the start of the season and he’s shown more than a few flashes of the qualities needed for that role. In the same vein as Hall, he pushed effort and how he needed to drive that aforementioned accountability home more.
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“I gotta do a better job of just getting on guys more and more because we can’t go out there and play like we did today,” Brown said.
With all that in mind, it’s worth noting the mood in the Breslin Center after an uninspiring 40 minutes was one of disappointment, not panic. The problems are clearly more than fixable. But they’ll begin to get solved during what Izzo called the next “five days of hell” before a brutal six-game stretch with four road games in some of the toughest environments in the league.
For now, it goes down as a wake-up call for the team, one that will show Michigan State what they’re all about. Of course, Izzo knows this.
“When Roy Williams came here, I said ‘It’s no big deal guys. I can lose a game. See that guy? I ain’t ever touching his record — I ain’t catching him.’ The game, I don’t care about. I care about getting better,” Izzo said. “If this is what it takes to get better at the end of the year, then I’m glad we lost-whoever thought I’d say that?
“I said it's good to learn a lesson and still win. It was evident it wasn’t good to learn a lesson and still win because I don’t think we learned a lesson. Whether we will now or not, we’ll find out.”
And if not?
Expect to hear another thud.
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