Embarrassing and unacceptable — those were a couple of words heard inside Michigan State’s locker room on Thursday night after the Spartans got blown out at home by Iowa.
It was the second win for the Hawkeyes in two weeks over the No. 4 team in the country, and it had Michigan State’s players shaking their heads.
But life in the Big Ten allows for very little time to sulk over one loss, and Michigan State must find a way on Sunday to bounce back from its worst performance of the season by traveling to Wisconsin to take on the Badgers.
“It’s kind of embarrassing, but it is what is,” senior guard Denzel Valentine said on Thursday. “But we’ve got to learn from our mistakes and it’s not gonna happen again. We’ve got to watch the film and respond on Sunday.”
The response will be interesting to see considering this is the first significant adversity Michigan State (16-2, 3-2 Big Ten) has faced this season. The Spartans have had their share of injuries, but even with Valentine out for four games, they managed a 3-1 record.
But the performance in all aspects against Iowa was as concerning as anything as coach Tom Izzo said Iowa was the tougher team. The Hawkeyes, for the second time this season, got to nearly every loose ball and had Michigan State playing on its heels from the opening tip.
“I’m very concerned about our defense and how we (stunk) tonight,” senior center Matt Costello said. “I thought we’d be more aggressive at the beginning, but we just didn’t bring it and we’ve got to be ready for Wisconsin.”
The Spartans will be looking to get back on track against a Wisconsin team that has had its share of struggles coming off back-to-back Final Four appearances.
Graduation hit the Badgers hard as interim coach Greg Gard is doing his best to hang on to the job permanently. The Badgers have won only once in their last five games, but the four losses have been by combined 15 points.
There seems little doubt that Wisconsin will give Michigan State a stiff test behind junior forward Nigel Hayes, who is averaging 15.8 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, as well as junior guard Bronson Koenig, who is scoring 13.6 points a game.
And the Spartans understand it will take a far better effort to avoid losing consecutive games for the first time this season.
“We’ve got to respond and play better,” Valentine said. “We’ll watch film and hopefully see the little things we messed up on and try and get better. If we learn from our mistakes, I’m not tripping. I think we’ll be fine, but if we don’t, this will keep happening. Us as leaders — me, Matt, Tum (Tum Nairn) — we’ve got to demand it. We’ve got to do it ourselves and everybody will follow and we’ll be fine.”
Izzo admitted he was surprised by the showing of his team against Iowa, but he vowed for tougher practices while keeping one game in perspective.
“There’s nothing to panic over, but we’re going to find guys that want to compete,” he said.
No. 4 Michigan State at Wisconsin
Tip-off: 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
TV/radio: CBS/WJR 760
Records: Michigan State 16-2, 3-2 Big Ten; Wisconsin 9-9, 1-4
Notable: Michigan State has lost two straight at the Kohl Center, but is 2-2 in its last four trips to Madison. … With 511 career wins, Tom Izzo is one win shy of tying Gene Keady (512 wins) for second most victories at a Big Ten school, trailing only Bob Knight (661 wins). Izzo is also third all-time with 236 Big Ten wins, trailing just Knight (353 wins) and Keady (265 wins).