MSU basketball team vows to start closing games

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Heading into Monday's game against Indiana, Michigan State admits it's not where it expected to be.

At 9-5 and 0-1 in the Big Ten with losses in two of the last three games, the Spartans find themselves in a position where they can't afford to take many more losses, especially at home.

"It's big because it's a home game against a team that's done well, and it would be a good win," coach Tom Izzo said. "It's too early to say this is a must-win and all that stuff. I've started out so many different ways in my career and still made it to the promised-land one way or another. It definitely gets bigger, so there's more pressure."

Michigan State also will have to handle the fact it has been unable to close games.

The Spartans have been in every game they lost and all, with the exception of Texas Southern, they came against top competition. Duke, Kansas, Notre Dame and Maryland are all ranked in the top 15 and the 10-point loss to Duke was the widest margin. The losses to Notre Dame and Maryland came in overtime and the Kansas game went to the final few possessions.

"You usually look at the season and you say 'God, we should have won those three games,' " Izzo said. "Then you look back and you say 'Yeah, but we could have lost these two games.' There ain't no game we coulda, shoulda lost. There's three to four we coulda, shoulda won. We played well enough and led at a point in time when we did enough.

"If one more basket goes in, if we make one more defensive stop, we're 12-2 and ranked in the top 15. We've played well enough to be there. We've played poor enough to be right where we are. And we're just trying to look at it like a couple little things we've got to do better, and we could be right where we thought we'd be."

The loss to Maryland was the perfect example of how the Spartans are doing just enough to lose. They held the Terrapins to 33.3-percent shooting and 18 percent from 3-point range.

However, Michigan State also allowed 32 free throws in the second half and gave up a game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds that forced the overtime.

"We just didn't make plays when you needed to make plays," Izzo said.

The result is a Michigan State team that feels like it's better than it record shows.

"And so when you look at our team, and you say, 'Well, they're awful,' well, we're one or two points from beating Notre Dame. We're a couple of ridiculous plays from Texas Southern, without (Branden Dawson). We're three up with two seconds left against Maryland," Izzo said.

"I mean, there's got to be some good in this. Because those teams — Notre Dame, Kansas, Duke and Maryland — got I think what, four losses between the four of them? So it's not like we're doing that to dogs. Most of the not as good teams, this year we've actually blown out more of them. What we did at Oakland, what we did at Eastern — those are pretty impressive wins when you look at it. It's what we didn't do in a couple of those games that's very, very, very disappointing. And yet I don't look at this as a bad team. I look at this as not being able to win the close games right now."

Indiana at Michigan State

Tip-off: 7 Monday, Breslin Center, East Lansing

TV/radio: BTN/WJR 760

Records: Indiana 11-3, 1-0 Big Ten; Michigan State 9-5, 0-1

Outlook: The game marks the last in a seven-game homestand for the Spartans. Last season, MSU won both meetings with Indiana while the Hoosiers swept the season series in 2012-13. … James Blackmon Jr. (17.2 ppg) leads the Hoosiers in scoring.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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