MSU's Kenny Goins, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward on loss to Kansas. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Indianapolis – Michigan State has seen its share of No. 1 teams in the Champions Classic and Kansas certainly measured up.
By the end of the game, Michigan State felt like it wasn’t far off the level of the Jayhawks. However, as the Spartans headed home, they were kicking themselves for not playing their best for the entire 40 minutes.
Instead, Michigan State fell behind in the first half thanks to turnovers and missed free throws before storming back in the second half. However, the comeback fell short as No. 1 Kansas came away with the 92-87 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday.
“I’m disappointed in the first half,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I think that was as poorly as we could play, and yet, I said if we could get it to 10 we’d have a chance in the second half. We just didn’t play good enough to beat a good team, and they’re a good team.”
It was the third time Michigan State (0-1) has played a No. 1 team in the Champions Classic and it has won just one of those, beating Kentucky back in 2014. Its record against Kansas in the Classic dropped to 2-1.
In the latest battle with a No. 1, Kansas (1-0) flexed its muscle early, using a first-half run to break the game open. All 10 players who saw action for the Jayhawks scored with four in double-figures. Quentin Grimes scored 21 to lead Kansas while Dedric Lawson scored 20, Udoka Azubuike added 17 and Devon Dotson scored 16.
"We had a chance in the second half": MSU coach Tom Izzo breaks down the loss to Kansas Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Michigan State had four players reach double-figures, as well. Joshua Langford led the way with 18 while Kenny Goins had a career-high 17. Cassius Winston scored 13 and had 11 assists while Matt McQuaid scored 12.
The late surge that saw Michigan State cut Kansas’ lead to 90-87 with 34 seconds to play after a Kyle Ahrens three didn’t leave the Spartans feeling any better about the fact they played so poorly in the first half. It was a half that saw MSU turn the ball over eight times and miss 11 free throws. The Spartans finished with 18 turnovers.
“We should have won the game, point blank,” Langford said. “If we want to win the national championship, we want to win the Big Ten outright, we’ve just got to play better, period. It can’t be too many more, ‘Could have did this,’ or, ‘Look at the bright side.’ It’s time for us to make that step as team, as well as me as a leader.”
It was a close game through the first eight minutes before things started get away from the Spartans. Trailing 18-16, the Spartans allowed the Jayhawks to go on a 12-1 run to open a 13-point lead, one that eventually grew to 17. Michigan State was able to cut into at the buzzer of the first half when Ahrens hit a 3-pointer from the wing as Kansas took a 50-36 lead into the locker room.
“I don’t think we played as hard as we did in the second half,” Goins said. “I don’t know why, but the hustle wasn’t there.”
It started to show up in the second as Michigan State start to slowly rally, only to come up against several runs from Kansas.
After three straight 3-pointers, the last from Goins, Michigan State cut the Kansas lead to 63-55 with 14:41 to play. But the Jayhawks responded by scoring the next seven points, the first three after Nick Ward was knocked to the floor and Dotson hit an open triple. The run was capped after another Winston turnover as Dedric Lawson scored in transition to give Kansas a 70-55 lead.
“We’re not good enough against them to have a five-point swing when it’s an eight-point game,” Izzo said. “We just kind of did that a couple times.”
The Spartans got within 10 after a pair of McQuaid free throws with 7:42 to play but saved their final push for the last few minutes when a put-back from Goins cut the Kansas lead to 90-84 with 1:18 to play. Ahrens then nailed a 3-pointer with 34.3 seconds to play to cut the deficit to three.
But Kansas added one free throw and Michigan State couldn’t get a late shot to fall.
“In the second half we did a better job,” Izzo said, “but you don’t count wins in the half; wins are in a game. Probably some good things I’ll get out of it. I’m just so disappointed in how we played in the first half. We looked like the stage (was too big). Looked like we weren’t in sync and that is disappointing.”
Other observations from Tuesday night’s opener:
► As Michigan State prepared to open the season, Izzo talked about Langford being the difference between the Spartans being good or great. The opener against Kansas was a bit of a mixed bag. Langford had a pedestrian first half before coming to life in the second.
He was just another guy on the court in the first half, making one of his first four shots while grabbing a pair of rebounds in 14 minutes. The second half was more of what the Spartans were hoping for as he had three triples and helped keep MSU in the game. But Michigan State needs Langford to be that for two halves, especially against a team like Kansas
“I told him he’s got to play better,” Izzo said. “He did play better in the second half and Josh is a good player. I told him he had to play better, I guess he listened.”
► Turnovers plagued Michigan State when it played Gonzaga in a scrimmage a week-and-a-half ago and they were again a problem against Kansas as the Spartans had eight turnovers in the first half. The Spartans finished with 18 as the Jayhawks turned that into 20 points. Winston had five, as did Ward, though two of Ward’s were on offensive fouls.
Michigan State will have a small margin for error this season, and if it keeps handing away 20 points a night, it’s gonna be a long year.
“That’s gonna win us and lose us games,” Winston said. “Especially championship games against championship-caliber teams. Turnovers are the difference in those games and we have to fix it.”