Indianapolis — For nearly 30 minutes on Tuesday night, Michigan State was playing with one of the best teams in the country.
But as the Spartans were quick to point out, moral victories haven't held much meaning around their program in a long time.
And that was no different Tuesday night against No. 4 Duke in the Champions Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Despite a boatload of turnovers, poor 3-point shooting and two of their best players in foul trouble, the Spartans found themselves down only three points with 12 minutes to play.
But that's when Duke and its loaded lineup flexed its muscles, going on a 13-3 run to pull away from No. 19 Michigan State and record the 81-71 victory.
"Frustrating," senior guard Travis Trice said. "We feel like we shot ourselves in the foot so many times, especially with the turnovers. They had like 20-plus points off turnovers and you can't win a game when you give up that many points off that.
"We felt like we lost this game and we really wanted to win. That's all we take from it — it's a loss."
It was the second time Michigan State has lost to Duke in the event, falling to the Blue Devils in 2011, and it improved Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski's record against Tom Izzo to 8-1.
And while Duke is full of talent — it has nine McDonald's All-Americans on its roster —Michigan State helped out plenty by turning the ball over 13 times and shooting just 5-for-20 from 3-point range. The Spartans were also only 6-for-10 from the free-throw line while Duke was 20-for-26.
"I thought we did some good things and thought we did some poor things," Izzo said. "I said turnovers and free throws would be a key and we got into foul trouble early.
"We made some very good plays and played very hard but then made some dumb plays. We had our chances we just couldn't come up with enough plays."
Quinn Cook scored 19 to lead the Blue Devils (3-0) while Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor added 17 points each and Justise Winslow scored 15.
Branden Dawson scored 18 and grabbed nine rebounds for Michigan State (1-1) while Trice scored 15 points and Denzel Valentine added 13.
But even while the Spartans were sloppy, they managed to cut the Blue Devils lead to 51-48 on a pair of free throws from Valentine with 12:19 to play in the game.
That would be as close as Michigan State would get as Duke answered with seven straight points before Bryn Forbes hit a 3-pointer. But another six straight from the Blue Devils pushed the lead to 64-51 with 7:58 to play and effectively put the game out of reach.
"We were moving the ball and ran good," Izzo said, "but we just couldn't run enough because we had no legs left. We did wear down in stretches. When that happens we're not as good in the half court especially with some of the guys we had out there. (Dawson) did some good things and Trice played well on one end of the court. We're making progress."
Michigan State showed plenty of fight in the first half, playing most of the time without Valentine and Dawson who both had two fouls. Dawson checked out with 7:35 to play and Valentine quickly followed with less than 30 seconds later.
But it was at that point the Spartans started to make a run, cutting the Duke lead to 32-29 at one point with a chance to trim it to one or tie with a 3-pointer.
However, freshman Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr. couldn't finish on a drive to the basket and Duke answered with a 3-pointer by Winslow to push the lead to 35-29 with 3:13 to play in the half. The Blue Devils, whose biggest lead of the half came at 27-17, then got a pair of free throws from Winslow before Matt Costello answered with a dunk on a feed from Trice.
The Spartans got another stop, but after a turnover Rasheed Sulaimon hit a 3-pointer followed by a layup from Michigan State's Colby Wollenman to give Duke a 40-33 lead at the break.
Winslow, Cook and Okafor all had 10 points for the Blue Devils in the first half while Valentine, despite his limited minutes, led the Spartans with nine.
Duke was on fire early, going nearly six minutes before missing a shot and opening an eight-point lead. The Blue Devils eventually led, 32-24, but Wollenman spotted up for a jumper and Forbes buried a 3-pointer from the corner to cut the lead to 32-29.
"I learned a lot," Izzo said. "I'm not happy and I'm not disappointed. We got out of it what we wanted to get out of it. That doesn't mean you lose by four or five or 10 points and get a moral victory. We've been too good for that. But under the circumstances right now we competed and we will get better."