Thursday, June 30, 2022

'That's not how Michigan State plays': Izzo questions team's toughness after loss

February 9, 2022
<p>Senior forward Gabe Brown (44) passes the ball to senior forward Marcus Bingham Jr. (30) in the second half. The Spartans fell to the Badgers, 70-62, at Breslin Student Events Center on Feb. 8, 2022. </p>

Senior forward Gabe Brown (44) passes the ball to senior forward Marcus Bingham Jr. (30) in the second half. The Spartans fell to the Badgers, 70-62, at Breslin Student Events Center on Feb. 8, 2022.

Photo by Lauren DeMay | The State News

In his 27-year tenure as Michigan State Men's Basketball Head Coach Tom Izzo has rarely had an issue with one of his teams not playing with a high level of toughness and intensity.

However, after watching MSU come out flat then get outworked for key rebounds and loose balls down the stretch that led to a 70-62 loss to Wisconsin, Izzo declared that this year’s team does not have the level of grit that he expects from his teams.

“I'll get calls from former players tonight because that was not how Michigan State plays,” Izzo said.

The back-to-back disappointing performances in a four-day stretch left Izzo questioning in the postgame press conference whether or not this iteration of MSU basketball can live up to the physical expectation set by teams of the past.

“We gotta figure out how we're gonna get a little tougher,” Izzo said. “I haven't had many teams that I had to worry about that with but I got to worry about that with this team. Because you saw it, you watched it. I thought every loose ball they got. I thought every loose ball at Rutgers they got.”

The issues, once again, started on offense. MSU shot 20% from the field and turned the ball over five times in the first 11 minutes resulting in a 16-8 Wisconsin lead early. The listless effort continued and MSU entered the locker room with 23 points on 32% shooting (8-25). 

Wisconsin focused on its transition defense, limiting MSU to eight fastbreak points and forcing them to fall back into its halfcourt offense.

Without the tempo to ease things up, Michigan State’s sets in the halfcourt could hardly crack Wisconsin’s disciplined defense. Players looked to be on fumes driving the ball into the paint or coming off screens for shots and Izzo could do nothing more than rest his heads in his hands as he watched from the bench.

“It was stagnant,” senior forward and team captain Gabe Brown said. “Guys weren't moving, we was rushing shots. There's a lot of things that went on but we didn't do the things that we were supposed to do on offense.”

The tide began to turn in Michigan State’s favor in the second half, but the comeback never gained enough steam to unseat Wisconsin from its lead. The closest MSU came was 9:06 mark after redshirt senior forward Joey Hauser tipped in freshman guard Max Christie’s missed jumper to make it 45-44 Wisconsin.

MSU walked away with back-to-back empty offensive possessions due to turnovers while gifting extra chances to Wisconsin on the other end. MSU dropped back-to-back defensive rebounds out of bounds that would’ve ended the possession, which instead resulted in two baskets for sophomore guard Johnny Davis.

The one-point Wisconsin lead morphed back to a two-possession lead quickly before expanding to an insurmountable 10-point margin with 90 seconds remaining.

All the mistakes left Izzo questioning the team’s toughness as well as the coaching staff’s ability to prepare the players for games. 

“It's a little bit of lack of leadership and a little bit of as coaches, we got to do a better job,” Izzo said. “That's the bottom line. We have to do a better job. So, I am putting it all on me, I really am.”

In his opinion, Izzo and the coaching staff have done a poor job in recent games getting the team ready to play with enough energy and toughness to find success in a rugged Big Ten. The struggles compounded from Saturday into tonight leaving Izzo with the conclusion he is not doing enough as a coach.

“They came out inept, in my humble opinion, and not physical enough,” Izzo said as he slammed the stat sheet back on the press conference podium. “That is my job.”

The players, however, repeated that the responsibility lies on their shoulders. Hauser said it falls on the players to bring energy and toughness onto the floor every night, not the coaching staff. 

“At the end of the day, they don't go to court so they can only do so much,” Hauser said. “At some point, it's got to be ourselves. It's got to be the players that get each other motivated and bring that toughness and that physical part of the game that we've been missing some games here.”

Brown took more responsibility for the loss, saying it is on him as a team captain to ensure the team is prepared each game to bring the necessary energy on the court. He said that work begins with getting on guys to work harder during practice as well as conversations on gameday to get people more mentally locked in.

“I gotta do my best to get guys tougher, getting guys mentally locked in on us trying to get wins because we got to win at this point. And that's all I want to do at the end of the day, just win games.”

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Whatever the answer is, Michigan State needs to find it fast. The Spartans have dropped three of its last five games and are now tumbling down the Big Ten standings after sitting at the top going into the stretch. 

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