New York — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said before the season he told his team free-throw shooting would likely make or break them in more than one game this season.
Over the past week, it has been breaking the Spartans.
On Saturday, in a 64-60 loss to Georgetown at Madison Square Garden, Michigan State shot 9-for-16 from the line. In a five-point loss one week ago to Michigan, the Spartans were 16-for-23. In its lone victory, Michigan State overcame an 11-for-20 performance to beat Iowa in overtime.
“It is bothering me,” Izzo said on Saturday. “I don’t want to be ignorant, but I don’t get to shoot them, because I sure as hell know I’d make them. And you need to ask them that question. Why are they not making them or not working at it more? It has been an issue.”
The most troubling thing for Izzo and the Spartans is the fact two of their better free-throw shooters are the ones that are struggling. Keith Appling and Gary Harris have combined to go 24-for-42 over the last four games. Against Georgetown, Harris was 2-for-5 and Appling was 1-for-2.
“Two good players,” Izzo said. “I think I know why Keith (is struggling) a little bit. He’s had a problem with that wrist a little bit. But …”
Appling’s right wrist has been bothering him for most of the Big Ten season, but as he has done all year, the senior guard didn’t want to consider it a factor.
“I have to deal with it and suck it up as much as I can,” he said. “Just continue to get more reps, come in extra and shoot more free throws. It is affecting my shot, but like I said, that’s going to be like that. It’s going to ache and bother me. I just have to learn to play through it.”
Harris said he makes free throws routinely in practice and had a hard time explaining his recent slump at the line.
“It’s tough,” he said. “We need to make them, that’s the bottom line. We need to make our free throws.”
Payne's return nears
Saturday’s game might be the last time the Spartans have to play without Adreian Payne, who sat out for the seventh straight game with a sprained right foot.
Izzo said earlier this week he expects Payne back against Penn State on Thursday and said the senior forward will continue to work toward that goal.
“He's on a day-to-day now,” Izzo said. “Adreian is gonna run full-go (Sunday). We don't practice (Sunday), Monday he’s supposed to practice, a little bit of the drill work.”
Michigan State used its 12th different starting lineup Saturday as junior forward Alex Gauna replaced redshirt freshman Kenny Kaminski, who started the last two games.
Izzo contemplated a change in the starting lineup earlier this week but after the game said Kaminski was taken out for disciplinary reasons.
“I changed the lineup again because Kaminski couldn’t find the classroom again,” Izzo said.
Kaminski has twice been suspended this season, missing two exhibition games and the season opener, then sitting three more games in December — prompting Izzo to say Kaminski would return when “he takes care of all his business.
The loss to Georgetown was the first on the road this season for the Spartans, who entered the game 10-0 away from home and 4-0 in neutral court games.
… Michigan State fell to 2-10 at Madison Square Garden.
… Several famous ex-Spartans took in the game at Madison Square Garden, including former basketball players Jason Richardson and Morris Peterson. Former wide receiver Derrick Mason and quarterback Kirk Cousins, now with the Washington Redskins, were also at the game.