East Lansing — If there’s a weakness to second-ranked Michigan State, it seems clear through 11 games that is 3-point shooting defense.
The Spartans have had their issues most of the season guarding the 3, and it was again a problem Saturday in the 86-73 victory over Oakland at Little Caesars Arena.
The Golden Grizzlies shot 37 percent (10-for-27), a number that was a bit more respectable thanks to same late defense from senior guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn on Oakland’s Kendrick Nunn, who scored 32, but most coming early.
Up until that point, however, No. 2 Michigan State was giving up its share of 3-pointers as Oakland was smelling an upset.
“You look at how well they shot, only 35 percent,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “But this shooting from 3. We have not defended the 3 well and that’s got to be my fault for not putting enough emphasis on it. We’re not getting a hand up or we’re getting a hand up late.”
Entering today’s 6 p.m. tip-off at home against Houston Baptist, the Spartans rank 10th in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting defense at 36.4 percent. It’s particularly perplexing for Izzo considering Michigan State leads the nation both in overall field-goal percentage defense (33.3 percent) and two-point field goal defense (31.6).
A lot of that is because of the Spartans’ ability to block shots. They average 8.1 a game, which is second in the nation thanks to the work done by freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. (34 blocks) and sophomores Nick Ward (16) and Miles Bridges (14).
Spartans coach reflects on 86-73 win over Golden Grizzlies at Little Caesars Arena. Matt Charboneau
However, that hasn’t helped from beyond the arc as five teams have made 10 or more 3-pointers in a game against Michigan State, three of those games coming in the last four.
“You know the one thing that’s been poor all year?” Izzo said last week.
“Teams are shooting too good from the 3 against us. I think we’re, you know, I think I got to take the blame for that.”
The next two weeks should provide Michigan State (10-1, 2-0 Big Ten) time to work on that as this week’s schedule features Houston Baptist (4-7) visiting the Breslin Center and Long Beach State (5-8) on Thursday.
Houston Baptist is shooting 31.7 percent on 3s while Long Beach State is 38.6 percent.
“I have a lot of faith in my guys, I just don’t like when they turn the ball over and I don’t like the fact we’re not guarding the three like we need to,” Izzo said. “Some of that falls on me, some of that falls on them and it will be fun to figure out over the next four days.”
The defensive lapses on 3’s have been far outweighed this point to everything Michigan State is doing well. But by the time Big Ten play resumes after the first of the year, the Spartans hope to have every aspect of their game in order.
That includes defending the 3-pointer.
“We’re doing more good than I think,” Izzo said. “It’s just that the bad is glaring.”
Houston Baptist at Michigan State
Tip-off: 6 Monday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
TV/radio: Big Ten Network/760
Records: Houston Baptist 4-7, Michigan State 10-1
Outlook: This is the first meeting between the schools. … This is the first of five straight home games for Michigan State, which won’t play on the road until Jan. 7 against Ohio State.