Izzo wants Spartans to ‘stay in the moment’
East Lansing — If the bracketologists are on the money, Michigan State was still an NCAA Tournament team as of Monday afternoon.
At least that’s the way it’s shaking out at places like ESPN.com, CBSsports.com and the USA Today. While that makes fans feel good, it’s hardly the rallying cry around the Spartans and for coach Tom Izzo, who has led his team to 19 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
“It is in the back of my mind, but it’s not my rah-rah speech every game, ‘Don’t break my streak, don’t break our streak,’ ” Izzo said on Monday. “Because, No. 1, we’ve already decided we’re in the ‘me’ era of the world, so it doesn’t matter as much what you did 15 and 20 years ago with a lot of kids, it just doesn’t.
“So I would rather stay in the moment, and the moment is to make sure these guys get to experience some things that either, No. 1, they’ve never experienced before, or No. 2, as they leave here, what they have to take with them. That’s really is to me what’s important, I think about that every day.”
That’s the main goal as Michigan State (15-10, 7-5 Big Ten) gets set to host Ohio State at 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Breslin Center. It’s the second meeting of the season after Ohio State beat Michigan State, 72-67, in mid-January for what was the first Big Ten win for the Buckeyes.
Both teams are scrambling to reach the NCAA Tournament — Ohio State (15-11, 5-8) doesn’t appear in any bracket at this point — but Izzo insists he’s pushed by other things.
“It doesn’t drive me in a negative way,” he said. “What motivates me is not even the streak, it’s really not, because streaks are meant to be broken. What motivates me is sending seniors out the right way, so they have a memory-maker to leave with — and I don’t want it to be a negative one. What motivates me is giving freshmen a chance to do something they’ve never done.”
Taking care of business at home is a necessary step with just three more games at Breslin left along with three on the road.
To do that against the Buckeyes, the Spartans must find a way to try and eliminate the turnovers that have reached a critical point. They’ve given the ball away 21 times in each of the last two games. It’s something that plagued MSU early in the season but started to get corrected as Big Ten play continued.
However, that changed dramatically in the loss at Michigan followed by Saturday’s win over Iowa.
“The way we’ve turned the ball over just blows me away,” Izzo said. “We’re trying to stress it and had done a better job. I will say this, we had done a lot better job from the beginning of the year … we went about eight or 10 games where we were doing a great job consistently and we’ve had two major setbacks in that and hopefully we’ll clean that up.”
While Michigan State hopes to get rid of the sloppiness they’ll need another solid performance from Miles Bridges, who scored 24 points in the first meeting, while Izzo is confident Ohio native Nick Ward will be better this time around.
Ohio State is hoping it gets guard Ja’Quan Lyle back after he missed game at Maryland on Saturday to be with his sister, who had life-threatening complications after child birth. Lyle scored 22 in the first meeting and the Spartans had few answers for him.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta was unsure if Lyle would play, though the sophomore guard was back at practice Monday. If he can play, the Buckeyes will have a much better chance to complete the season sweep, one that would be a significant blow to the Spartans.
“From game one the way (Michigan State) was hitting their first six or seven shots, we did a good job staying the course and taking the lead at halftime then did a good job of getting stops down the stretch when we needed them,” Matta said. “And the Bridges kid is as good as I’ve seen as a freshman. That day he was tremendous and we have to do a better job of trying to slow him down.”
Ohio State at Michigan State
Tip-off: 9 p.m. Tuesday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
TV/radio: ESPN/WJR 760
Records: Ohio State 15-11, 5-8 Big Ten; Michigan State 15-10, 7-5
Outlook: Michigan State saw a five-game winning streak over Ohio State snapped in last month’s loss on the road. The Spartans have won four straight in the series at home. … The last time MSU and Ohio State met on Valentine’s Day was in 2015 when then junior Denzel Valentine hit a 3-pointer with 3.2 seconds to play for a 59-56 MSU victory.