New York — Michigan State lost to Georgetown on Saturday at Madison Square Garden, and in the grand scheme of things, it might amount to absolutely nothing.
The 64-60 loss at the hands of a team that entered the game with five straight losses wasn’t exactly what the No. 7 Spartans (19-3) were looking for, and it will do nothing to affect their standing in the Big Ten.
But even with Adreian Payne out for the seventh straight game with a sprained right foot and Branden Dawson on the bench for the third straight game with a broken right hand, Michigan State was lacking one thing they haven’t during the past few weeks and one thing that bothered its coach.
“It’s getting a commitment from all 12 guys,” Tom Izzo said. “Right now we don’t have that. We’ve got to get it back. And realizing what I’ve said since the day I got this job — players play, tough players win. Win I die, I hope they put that on my tombstone, because it’ll be the same up in heaven. Tough angels are going to be better than those other ones. But it hasn’t changed since day one. Today, we got out-toughed. We really did. We got thrown around on the boards. We got posted up.
“Hey, I give (Georgetown coach) John (Thompson) a lot of credit, he took his team, an 11-9 team, lost some tough games, and hopefully that’ll get him going. I have a lot of respect for him and his program, and I thought they manhandled us, I really did.”
It’s hard to say the absence of Payne and Dawson led to Georgetown winning the physical battle, highlighted by a 37-30 advantage on the glass. This is the same Michigan State lineup that went into Iowa on Tuesday and gutted out an overtime victory over a top-15 team.
And quite frankly, the players weren’t buying it as an excuse, either.
“It’s got nothing to do with that,” guard Denzel Valentine said. “We got outplayed tonight, basically. We can still win and bet a lot of teams short-handed. The fact is we’ve got to come in with a different mindset or we’re going to get what we got.
“There are no excuses. We’ve beaten ranked teams short-handed. We just beat Iowa at their place in a more hostile environment than this, so there are no excuses.”
There are no excuses, but the reasons for the loss were obvious.
On top of the rebounding gap, Michigan State shot just 39.6 percent from the field and just 9-for-29 from 3-point range while turning the ball over 15 times.
The Hoyas (12-9) took advantage, getting 16 points from Markel Starks, 12 points and eight rebounds from D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and 10 points from junior forward Mikael Hopkins.
“That’s a good win,” Thompson said. “I feel that way regardless of who the opposition was to tell you the truth. The way we have been going, that is a good win against a very good team. I told the team before the game let’s not come in here and have to listen to me give a speech after the game. We went out and played hard.”
Gary Harris scored 20 to lead Michigan State (19-3), which lost for the second time in three games. Valentine added 11 points for the Spartans and forward Kenny Kaminski scored 10.
“The main thing for me is we had an opportunity to win the game and we let it slip through our hands,” said guard Keith Appling, who had seven points and six assists. “There were some small errors we made tonight that could possibly cause us to lose the Big Ten championship or make an early exit in the NCAA Tournament.”
Michigan State led at the break, but Georgetown opened the second half outscoring Michigan State 11-2 to take a 40-32 lead, the biggest of the game for any team at that point. The Spartans bounced back and started to come to life on a full-court drive and dunk by Harris to cut the Hoyas' lead to five with just less than 13 minutes to play.
The Spartans managed to get within 48-45 with 6:45 to play but Valentine missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the game and then missed the front end of a one-and-one. Harris added a 3-pointer but it was sandwiched by two impressive pull-up jumpers from Starks to keep the Hoyas in front, 52-48.
“We were getting good shots down the stretch but we just kept missing them,” Valentine said. “We shot 38 percent and turned the ball over 15 times. You can’t do that against a good team and expect to win the game.”
It went back and forth over the final few minutes as Harris drew a foul to get to the line and split a pair of free throws before Hopkins dunked on a pick-and-roll and Harris answered with a runner. Hopkins followed with two free throws to put Georgetown up 56-51, but Harris nailed another 3-pointer with 1:32 to play to make it a two-point game.
However, that’s when Jabril Trawick tipped in a Starks miss and Michigan State turned the ball over in the final minute. Starks then split a pair of free throws and the Hoyas eventually put the game away at the free-throw line.
“You’re not going to beat Michigan State or any team in the Big East if you aren’t physically tough,” Thompson said. “You need to be tough enough to make the hustle plays, run down loose balls, run down the long rebounds and have communication on defense.
“Traditionally through the years their team has been one of the more physical teams in the country and I thought we met the challenge today.”
It certainly hurt Michigan State to once again not have Payne and Dawson, but Izzo still wasn’t pleased.
“We got out-toughed and it had nothing to do with Adreian,” Izzo said. “Yeah he could have made it better, but we got out-toughed and out-played.”