Charboneau: Lack of fire burns Michigan State

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan State players, from left to right, Keenan Wetzel, Marvin Clark Jr., Gavin Schilling, and Alvin Ellis III sit on the bench in the closing moments.

East Lansing — There was plenty for Michigan State to be unhappy with on Saturday night.

The 25th-ranked Spartans had just lost at home to Texas Southern, a team that came into the game with one victory and lopsided losses to Gonzaga, Florida, Baylor and Indiana.

It wasn't pretty. Michigan State was shooting 44.4 percent from 3-point range but was 4-for-21 in the 71-64 loss. It also was without senior forward Branden Dawson, and, as coach Tom Izzo said, its best players didn't play well.

"I thought Michigan State just came out and just kind of played, not with the energy and effort they normally play with," Texas Southern coach Mike Davis said. "They missed some shots early and they just kept missing."

That's not coming from just anyone. Davis has been around, and more importantly, he's been around Michigan State. He was the coach at Indiana from 2000-06 — where he and Michigan State assistant Dane Fife reached the national championship game in 2002. He also coached at UAB before taking over at Texas Southern in 2012.

He came into the game with a 5-7 mark against Izzo and the Spartans and had never won at Breslin Center.

So he knows what he's talking about.

And hearing that stung the Spartans.

"That makes me feel bad," senior captain Travis Trice said. "No disrespect to him but that is the biggest insult for a Michigan State player and that is a letdown for us. That is what we're known for. To not bring it is the ultimate hit."

The Spartans weren't shying from the criticism, because they saw the same thing.

"It doesn't matter if he said it or not, it's the truth," junior center Matt Costello said. "Every fan can see we didn't play the way we normally play and that is why we got beat."

There were plenty of reasons to say this one seemed almost inevitable. Dawson was missing his first game since breaking his left wrist and freshman Javon Bess was playing for just the second time. And with the students on break, the crowd wasn't as loud as it typically is, though Izzo pointed out quickly that the crowd was not to blame.

And even though Texas Southern had just one victory, it was a solid team that won the Southwestern Athletic Conference title last season to reach the NCAA Tournament.

But there were far more reasons to believe this defeat wasn't coming.

Michigan State had played well its last two games, beating Oakland and Eastern Michigan soundly. And its three previous losses were in competitive games against highly ranked Duke and Kansas, as well as an overtime setback at Notre Dame.

Izzo put most of the blame on himself, but he did say the Spartans' last two practices were "sissy" practices, pointed out at least one call that could have turned the tide and mentioned Michigan State isn't "at the point where we pack the place against anyone."

And he didn't completely let his players off the hook.

"It wasn't like we took days off but we didn't practice as hard," he said. "Too worried about my little guys getting tired, and so it's just a shame."

All of that likely means some intense practices for the Spartans and Izzo getting back to pushing his team instead of letting up.

Does it mean the end of the world for Michigan State? Not at all.

But it does point out some deficiencies. Without Dawson, the Spartans need to be closer to perfect, at least as long as Bess works himself back into shape. And it shows that youth and inexperience will be a wild card on many nights this season.

More importantly, it shows how much the Spartans rely on the 3-pointer, going 4-for-21 on Saturday.

"We didn't shoot it well, we had some great shots," Izzo said. "You live by the 3, you die by the 3. That's another good lesson."

If Michigan State ends up on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, this loss could hurt, though Texas Southern could be a tournament team, as well.

What Michigan State hopes it proves to be is a turning point. This game is either a spark or sign of bad things to come. Monday will give the first indication of what it will be, but there is little doubt it has done one thing.

"I'm not gonna emphasize anything," Izzo said, "but what we're gonna play harder, we're gonna play smarter and we're gonna come ready to play."

That will be a substantial improvement over Saturday.