Saturday, May 21, 2022

MSU filled with pride after tear-jerking loss in NCAA Tournament

March 21, 2022
<p>Junior forward Malik Hall (25) comforts senior forward Gabe Brown (44) after Duke&#x27;s victory over Michigan State on March 20, 2022.</p>

Junior forward Malik Hall (25) comforts senior forward Gabe Brown (44) after Duke's victory over Michigan State on March 20, 2022.

Photo by Rahmya Trewern | The State News

The streaks of tears were still fresh on junior guard Tyson Walker’s face as he took his spot at the podium for the postgame press conference.

Thirty minutes after blowing a five-point lead in the final 4:55 to lose to second-seeded Duke 85-76, Walker, alongside seniors Gabe Brown, Marcus Bingham Jr. and Head Coach Tom Izzo, sat in front of the microphone to try to explain what just happened. 

They had a brief amount of time together in the locker room after the game as Duke explained their victory. Izzo said it was a somber mood in the locker room and tears were flowing from everyone, evident from Walker’s face.

“It was a tear-jerking conversation,” Izzo said. “I felt like they gave me just about everything they could. We made some mistakes. Basketball is a game of mistakes. But I never thought they gave up, gave in, or didn't believe we could win, and that was a good sign.”

After collecting themselves, they moved to the press room to publicly discuss the end of the season.

The four talked about Duke’s proficiency down the stretch and how they could not come up with timely plays to match that effort when it mattered most. They talked solemnly about the end of a long, up-and-down season and the pride of standing toe-to-toe with a bonafide championship contender for nearly 40 minutes.

“The first thing I'd like to say is how proud I am of my team,” Izzo said. “We've been through a lot. I thought, if we could get it within two points at the ten-minute mark, pressure goes on them, and now we're five up with four or five minutes left. Like a championship team, they dug down and made some plays.”

Brown and Bingham, two of the three seniors on scholarship, followed their gaffer and answered questions about the final game of their college career. The duo combined for 34 points and were emotional leaders in the near-upset, but it was not enough to keep the season alive. 

Instead of basking in what would have been a career-defining performance for the two senior leaders, they were trying to make sense of their careers and time at Michigan State.

“(It’s) a lot of mixed emotions,” Bingham said. “I want to be proud, but at the same time, mad that we're not playing another night. I think the guys went out there and played hard from the first half into the second half. We fought. Just some situations, we just didn't pull through.” (pg. 1, paragraph 6)

“Like Marcus said, it's a lot of mixed emotions,” Brown said. “I put everything I had into being here, playing at Michigan State, everything I put into it for coach Izzo, my teammates, for the staff, for everybody. I'm sad that I can't play another night, but it's motivation.” (pg 1, paragraph 8)

Walker, who finished with 13 points and five assists, sat between the two seniors and listened intently to their answers. He listened as they talked about their pride in the team’s effort and what went wrong in the last five minutes for a while before a question came his way. 

Eventually, Walker was asked about the two seniors on his flanks. With the tear stains still clearly visible, he started to explain what his new home meant to him and how Bingham and Brown embraced him like a brother. As he started talking, he started to get choked up with emotion.

“From day one, they took me in like they knew me all my life,” Walker said. “They helped me and everything. When it was tough for me in the beginning, they helped me out every day, kept talking to me, became my best friends. I learned a lot, just how it is to play every day here. It's not easy. And they showed me what it takes. Basically, what it takes to win. I appreciate them for that.”

And when Walker was asked a little later about what it meant to play in his first-ever NCAA tournament, the tears started to flow down his cheeks.

“I've never played this long of a season, making it this far, but to them it's — you know, it's not far enough,” Walker said. “For me, it felt good just to be here. I wanted to win. I wanted to make it to next weekend. Like people in my town, like I'm the only one to make it this far in the tournament.”

Izzo looked at Walker like a proud father as he candidly spoke on what that opportunity meant to him. The pride he felt in his players outweighed the negative emotions of getting bounced from the tournament. 

Duke was supposed to win that game. They came into it as the two-seed in the region and a national championship favorite. But MSU was every bit their equal for almost an entire game before falling short. They held the belief they belonged on the same court as the Blue Devils and played like it, and for that, Izzo couldn’t find it in himself to be upset with his players despite the loss. 

“The sad part is it wasn't a nine-point game,” Izzo said. “It was a game that went exactly like I hoped it would go.”

Michigan State stands in a much different place now than it did a year ago after losing to UCLA in the First Four of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Izzo said he was mad with his players after that performance, but had none of those same feelings tonight. 

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Instead, it had Izzo filled with satisfaction in how his team played despite the result and hope that it can create magic in the future.

“That doesn't change how I feel about my team,” Izzo said to close. “We'll grow from this. We'll get better. I hope the people realize this program is here to stay because today was probably a helluva game for TV. A helluva game.”

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