Spartans' defensive plan: Contain Boilermakers' Edwards
East Lansing — Tom Izzo isn't often one to rely on old sports clichés.
However, as No. 6 Michigan State prepares to host Purdue on Tuesday night and face guard Carsen Edwards, the top scorer in the conference, one of those sayings seems to fit.
“We’re not gonna stop him,” Izzo said on Monday. “I think two teams have held him under 20. As they say, we gotta contain him and make him earn every shot, make him work for everything, and hopefully he won’t shoot as high a percentage.”
That’s a simple concept, though few teams have been effective in making it happen.
The first team to do so was Robert Morris while the second time came when the Boilermakers got blown out at Michigan. In each of those games, the opponent was able to do exactly what Izzo is aiming for — limiting the good looks Edwards gets and making it difficult for him to score.
The junior guard was just 4-for-15 shooting against Robert Morris while he was 7-for-21 in the loss to the Wolverines.
“He’s a serious threat just how he can score, get to the basket, shoot 3s,” Michigan State guard Cassius Winston said. “He’s just an offensive threat. He’s gonna get a lot of different looks, some bigger guys maybe, just a whole bunch of different looks and we gotta do our best to contain him and not let him roam free on the court, force him into tough situations, force him to make tough shots every time.”
The Spartans (13-2, 4-0 Big Ten) have been effective most of the season at forcing teams to take tough shots. Entering Tuesday’s 9 p.m. tip-off at Breslin Center, Michigan State has the best field-goal percentage defense in the Big Ten, allowing opponents to shoot 37.3 percent, a number that also ranks in the top 10 in the nation.
That said, Izzo and company understand the unique challenge that Edwards brings as the conference’s top scorer at 25.5 points a game.
“Carsen Edwards has taken his game from good to great last year and he’s taken it from great to elite this year,” Izzo said. “To average 25.5 this day and age in a major college is not the norm. He leads the Big Ten in 3-point shooting. … He’s quick, he’s strong, he can get his shot up. He looks like a linebacker or a free safety and plays like one except with a lot of grace and skill.
“I’ve been really impressed by what this kid has done.”
As Winston alluded to, there will be plenty of folks taking a shot at slowing Edwards. Senior guard Matt McQuaid will get the first shot but expect Winston and freshman Aaron Henry to get some work there, as well.
It’s an even tougher task for the Spartans considering junior guard Joshua Langford will miss his third game because of an ankle injury.
“This creates a problem for us without Josh there. There’s no ifs ands or buts about it,” Izzo said. “I mean, Carsen Edwards can score from the locker room, so we’ll probably have to start checking him during dress time and then we’ll probably finish after he showers. And I say that with half a joke and half serious. I mean, I haven’t seen a kid that’s done what he’s done.”
The good news for Michigan State is its playing about as well as it has at any point this season.
Coming off a win at Ohio State on Saturday, one Izzo declared a “great win,” there’s not much the Spartans are struggling with outside of a slow defensive start against the Buckeyes and a continued propensity to turn the ball over.
“I am impressed that we’ve been able to do it on both ends,” Izzo said. “We’ve been pretty consistent on offense. Haven’t shot the ball from 3 as well lately. We’ve been pretty consistent on defense. We’ve been pretty consistent rebounding the ball. On the negative, we’ve been very inconsistent with our turnovers. A little better because we’ve had some six and seven games, but we still turn it over a little bit too much.
“But if you look at the stats, the consistency this team has shown on both sides of the ball, to use a football phrase, has been pretty solid and pretty good. It’s a fun team to watch play and it’s a fun team to coach because the ball is moving.”
After Tuesday’s game, four of the next five are on the road, and if the Spartans beat the Boilermakers for their ninth straight win, the confidence will be high.
Still, Izzo isn’t handing his team a title this early in the season.
“I’m not ready to canonize anybody on anything because we haven’t earned anything,” Izzo said. “We’ve earned the right to be where we’re at, we’ve earned the right to say we’re getting better, we’ve earned the right to say that we’ve got a fun team to watch and we don’t neglect an area right now.”
Purdue at No. 6 Michigan State
Tip-off: 9 p.m. Tuesday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
TV/radio: ESPN2/WJR 760
Records: Purdue 9-5, 2-1 Big Ten; Michigan State 13-2, 4-0
Outlook: The Boilermakers haven’t played since beating Iowa last Thursday. … Michigan State has won nine of the last 12 in the series, though last season’s win snapped a two-game skid. … Purdue’s Carsen Edwards leads the Big Ten in scoring with 25.5 points per game while handing out 3.4 assists ... Senior guard Ryan Cline is second on the team with 12.6 points per game and is second on the team in 3-pointers, connecting on 42. … Purdue is fourth in the Big Ten in scoring offense (78.9 ppg) and 12th in the league in scoring defense (68.8 ppg).