Despite loss, Izzo pleased Spartans put up a fight

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

West Lafayette, Ind. — Matt Costello’s head hung low as he tried to come up with the best way to describe his feelings Tuesday night, but the best he had was, “I don’t know.”

Costello and his Michigan State teammates had just lost in to Purdue, 82-81, in overtime, after erasing an 18-point second-half deficit.

“I’m just upset we lost,” Costello said. “We just had to stay focused and we knew they weren’t going to keep hitting shots, but at the end of the day, we still lost the game, so it really doesn’t matter what we did.”

It didn’t matter in terms of getting the win, but it was a step in the right direction for No. 8 Michigan State, which saw its four-game winning streak end.

Why was it a step in the right direction? Because the last time the Spartans got punched in the mouth, they wilted.

In both meetings against Iowa this season, specifically the game at Breslin Center, the Hawkeyes jumped to big leads and the Spartans never put up a fight.

This time, they stormed back and were position to win with a four-point lead in the final minutes of regulation.

“I can look on some bright spots that my team battled back,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We took the lead, had a four-, five-point lead, whatever it was, and a couple of big plays, a couple of big situations just didn’t go our way.”

Showing that fight might turn out to be as vital as anything with the final six games of the regular season ahead. And while any shot at even a share of the Big Ten championship seems lost, that doesn’t mean there is nothing for the Spartans to play for.

Finishing in the top four in the conference will assure a bye into Friday of the Big Ten Tournament, and a strong finish overall will have a large say in where Michigan State is seeded for the NCAA Tournament.

Losing to a Top 25 team on the road, with Lourawls Nairn Jr. out of the lineup and guards Bryn Forbes and Eron Harris struggling, isn’t something that should derail a final push.

“Purdue is one of the better teams in the Big Ten,” Izzo said of the team that nearly won at Maryland last weekend. “You talk about something scary. The free throws at Maryland were 27-5. Purdue was 3-for-25 from the three, and it was a two-point game with a couple minutes left. You know, that’s almost impossible. So they’re a good team.”

What Michigan State will have to prove in the next few weeks is it is just as good.

It gets another tough test Sunday when Indiana, just out of the Top 25, comes to Breslin Center. After that, the schedule is favorable.

“We’ll be a good team,” Izzo said. “It doesn’t even faze me if people are counting us in, it definitely doesn’t faze me if people count us out. This is a good basketball team. It’s still not, you know, in sync. But it’s the middle of February and it’s about time we start getting there, and we have been. And I think we showed some character in not folding the tent in a raucous place. We’ll be around.”