Free-throw shooting proves costly again for Spartans

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — A season ago, Michigan State had its share of issues at the free-throw line.

By coach Tom Izzo’s count, it probably cost his team three to four victories as the Spartans shot just 63.2 percent from the line, including 62.4 percent in Big Ten play.

However, this season things have turned around. Entering Wednesday’s game against Nebraska, Michigan State was making 72.2 percent of its free throws, including 74.5 percent in conference action.

But like it did a season ago, troubles at the line came back to bite the Spartans.

Michigan State went 12-for-21 on Wednesday in a 72-71 loss to Nebraska, the third straight defeat for the Spartans, who are now below .500 in the Big Ten at 3-4.

“We need to shoot better from the line and that’s a huge thing if we want to win games,” senior Denzel Valentine said. “We kind of messed up on that, and we can’t do that if we want to win big games.”

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Javon Bess, who was 3-for-6 for the game, missed three of four attempts in the final 7:06 while Deyonta Davis split a pair with 1:34 to play, leaving the Spartans behind by three.

Bess has been putting in extra time, something he’ll continue to do.

“I have been, but it’s not enough, obviously,” he said. “I was 3-for-6 and missing two down the stretch can’t happen if you want to win a close game. I’ve got to do more.”

Sixth different lineup

Michigan State juggled its starting lineup once again, moving Denzel Valentine to point guard and bringing Bryn Forbes back after he came off the bench on Sunday at Wisconsin. Junior Eron Harris started for the second straight game along with freshman forward Deyonta Davis and senior center Matt Costello.

It was the sixth different starting lineup Michigan State has used in eight games, the last two changes caused by guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn being forced to sit out with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Freshman Matt McQuaid started against Wisconsin and played 18 minutes on Wednesday.

“It’s hard to keep changing the lineup, and don’t even ask me why I do it,” Izzo said. “I don’t have a choice right now.”

One move that didn’t have anything to do with injury was the benching of Marvin Clark. The sophomore started the Big Ten opener at Iowa but has not played in two games since, including against Nebraska, and hasn’t played more than 11 minutes in a game.

“I’m just trying to play who I can play,” Izzo said. “Marv struggled in the last game with some things and he’s going to have to earn himself back in there. JB (Bess) had done it the other way. He’s been in every day working on his free throws, and the poor kid just missed them. That’s just the way it was.”

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Costello left the game with a little more than eight minutes left in the second half when he hurt his left ankle. He checked in again in the final minute but quickly came back out.

“I just came down on somebody’s foot,” Costello said. “I twisted it a bit but I should be good.”

… Izzo remained at 511 career victories, one shy of tying Purdue’s Gene Keady for second-most victories at a Big Ten school. Indiana’s Bob Knight is first with 661.