Michigan State coach discusses defeat to Duke. Matt Charboneau
Chicago — This one hit the Spartans where they hurt, and especially where Tom Izzo hurts. And he wasn’t hiding it.
Did No. 2 Michigan State have its shot against No. 1 Duke? Absolutely. Did the Spartans flash their talent and potential in a tight game? Yep. Were they beaten by a ridiculous shooting show from Duke senior Grayson Allen? Yep.
But Izzo wasn’t taking solace in anything, and he probably shouldn’t. College basketball fans may have been entertained by Duke’s 88-81 victory over Michigan State Tuesday night, but Izzo most certainly wasn’t. And his annoyance – even anger – showed how good he thinks his team can be, which amplified how disappointing this loss was.
“You know what, no insult, but I’m sick of holding my own,” Izzo said. “Give them a lot of credit, they got a good team, but this isn’t about holding my own. I didn’t think my team played great, and we were right in the game. But we should be. We got a good team.”
The Spartans were good enough to take a 75-73 lead with 4:12 left, before Allen drilled a couple more dagger three-pointers, part of a career-high 37 points. Miles Bridges and freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. matched Duke’s talent, and in the grand scheme, an early loss to the top team in the country doesn’t harm the Spartans, and might actually help them.
But in Michigan State’s elevated world, this was a blown opportunity, a chance to move up to No. 1, not that November polls matter. It was a chance to smear thumbprints on Duke’s sheen and do something about Izzo’s record against Mike Krzyzewski, which dropped to 1-11.
“I’m so sick of it,” Izzo said. “Our fans, our media, everybody should be upset. Twelfth game and can’t win many. I guess at least we got the courage to play them, that most people don’t.”
We’re months away from a singular game defining any team, but the Spartans wanted this one desperately, for all those reasons. And after Duke super-frosh Marvin Bagley III left early with a scratched eye, it was theirs for the taking.
It’s not necessarily galling to lose, but it was galling for the Spartans to get pounded on the boards, including 25-11 in offensive rebounds. The Blue Devils started four freshmen and the Spartans started four sophomores, yet Michigan State was the team throwing the ball all over the place, losing the turnover margin 17-9.
“We’re just disappointed because we gave the game away,” Bridges said. “Turnovers, stuff we can control. Michigan State is known for out-toughing people and they out-toughed us.”
Krzyzewski seemed especially pleased, maybe a bit relieved, to pull this one out. He slapped a zone defense on the Spartans and stymied them just enough. And he had to know, of all the victories in the series, this was one of the few where Duke couldn’t overwhelm Michigan State with sheer talent.
“I don’t pay attention to (11-1),” Krzyzewski said. “Not many people have beaten him, and not many people have beaten me. Next time we play, they’ll probably beat us by 30. It’s an honor to play against Tom’s program; they bring out the best in you.”
All the hype about all the young talent on both teams turned out to be legitimate. If this was an appetizer for the season, yes, we’ll take more please.
Unfortunately for Michigan State, Allen is just as legitimate. But when he wasn’t firing up one of his seven three-pointers, the Spartans hung tough. We saw the elements that make them tantalizing, as Jackson, Bridges and Nick Ward each scored 19. We also saw the concerns about three-point shooting and point-guard efficiency, as Cassius Winston and Bridges each committed five turnovers.
The rebounding was abysmal, which was a surprise, and Izzo was equally ticked off and exasperated by it.
“It was a heckuva night as far as college basketball is concerned,” Izzo said. “I’m embarrassed, to be honest with you, that a team would get 25 offensive rebounds against us, I don’t care how big they are. Never in a million years did I think we’d get out-rebounded like that. Give Duke credit, but I give us the blame. We have to live with that.”
Izzo’s mood will brighten as his team grows, and there’s little doubt it will grow rapidly. These were the preordained top two teams in the country, and by volume of skill, they showed it.
The Champions Classic was like a Final Four in November, with Kentucky-Kansas in the nightcap, and it felt like an early holiday. That’s how college basketball is these days, with the top teams eagerly opening their gifts, in the form of freshman stars. Like most new gadgets, you may not play with them longer than a year, but you can’t wait to get them.
Duke has a fabulous one in Bagley, who immediately turned the Blue Devils into the preseason No. 1 when he reclassified for this freshman class. He’s a 6-11 multi-talented scorer unlike anyone Krzyzewski has ever had.
Izzo has his own wonder kid in the 6-11 Jackson, the type of gifted player who can balance the floor when the Spartans play teams like this. You saw Jackson’s agility, slipping inside to grab an offensive rebound, lay it in and draw a foul. Then you saw his range, hitting a pair of threes to bust Duke’s zone and help the Spartans turn a 24-14 deficit into a 25-24 lead.
The stakes will grow as the kids grow as the season unfolds, and it’s not hyperbole to say this could be Izzo’s most-talented team, certainly one of his best shots at the national title since winning in 2000. Plenty of coaches have one championship but only 14 in history have two, and Izzo feels the itch. He especially feels it because he knows what this team is capable of accomplishing.
The Spartans had their moments but couldn’t keep Duke’s lanky athletes off the glass. And when the Blue Devils needed a basket, the oldest player on their roster kept providing it. Allen’s long three-pointer to end the first half stunted a Michigan State rally, and he just kept pushing it.
The Spartans kept rallying, and with appropriate seasoning, they’ll be difficult for anyone to handle. They would’ve been even more difficult for Duke to handle if not for Allen, who deftly showed the value of experience, as well as a deadly jump shot. It was a scintillating show, enjoyable for college basketball fans, and once again maddening for Izzo and the Spartans.