MSU players talk about the team's 82-78 overtime loss to Louisville in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Detroit News
Louisville, Ky. — When Foster Loyer was busy leading Clarkston to back-to-back state championships, he was also putting his name in the record book.
Over the course of Loyer’s final two seasons at Clarkston, he made 119 straight free throws at one point, the longest streak in Michigan high school history. Loyer also made 90 percent (611-of-679) of his free throws in his prep career, second-best in state history.
So, when the freshman stepped to the line Tuesday night at Louisville with 36.7 seconds left in regulation and Michigan State holding a one-point lead, it wasn’t a stretch to assume the Spartans would come out of the possession up three.
As it turns out, they didn’t add to their lead at all as Loyer missed the front end of the one-and-one. Louisville tied the game on the next possession and eventually beat No. 9 Michigan State, 82-78, in overtime.
“When I walk up to the free-throw line I always think it’s going in,” Loyer said. “I thought that one was going in. It felt great. But you move on to the next one and make the next however many in a row. I’m not going to let that hold me down.”
It would have been quite the ending for Loyer, who has seen only sporadic playing time this season but was forced into action when Cassius Winston fouled out with 4:01 to play. With Matt McQuaid back home with a leg injury, that left Loyer to take over in a pressure-packed situation.
MSU coach Tom Izzo after loss to Louisville The Detroit News
“Personally, I think Foster will make 99 out of 100 free throws, unfortunately he just missed that one,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Defensively he has a lot of work to do. The last thing I would expect is him to miss the free throw, and the kid had a lot of pressure on him and went up and missed the free throw. I missed one in high school myself, so I understand how that is.
“I feel sorry for him. He is not a great free throw shooter, he's a prolific free throw shooter. … It just wasn't our night.”
For Loyer, who has played eight minutes or less in each of the previous three games, there were plenty of ups and downs in the 8:52 he played on Tuesday. He turned the ball over soon after he took over for Winston but put MSU ahead, 66-64, with a running jumper with 1:44 to play.
It was the missed free throw, however, that will linger, but not enough to keep Loyer down.
“It was good for me moving forward,” Loyer said of playing at crunch time. “I’ve got to go in and do my job. At times I thought I did a good job of that tonight but also I made some mistakes I can’t make. For me it was a learning process and just keep getting better.”
After giving up more than 80 points in each of its first two games, Michigan State hardly looked like the defensive minded team it’s been for the bulk of coach Izzo’s tenure. The season began with a 92-87 loss to then-No. 1 Kansas followed by a 106-82 win over Florida Gulf Coast. It had Izzo vowing to get the Spartans back to the team that led the nation in field-goal percentage a season ago and was top 20 in scoring defense.
Over the next four games, the Spartans allowed an average of 56.7 points while limiting their opponents to just 32.6 percent shooting (76-for-233).
“I think my assistants deserve some credit for that. I mean, we just sat down and said, ‘We’re not gonna do this,’” Izzo said.
Michigan State was almost as good against Louisville, limiting the Cardinals to 39.6 percent shooting (21-for-53) but allowing Louisville to get to the free-throw line 41 times.
“Our No. 1 key was not to get them to the foul line and we did a hell of a job,” Izzo said sarcastically. “They shot 41 of them, and I can't even blame the officials.”
Get it under control
The one negative stat that has slowly crept back in for the Spartans is turnover.
Michigan State committed 18 turnovers against Kansas and 16 more vs. Florida Gulf Coast. It has started to clean that up until giving the ball up 24 times in the win over Texas.
The Spartans gave it up 17 more times against Louisville and the Cardinals took advantage by scoring 18 points off those turnovers.
“The turnovers early were, again, kind of ridiculous,” Izzo said, “and that's a shame because you can't overcome that.”