'That hurts': Spartans' streaks come crashing down with setback at Purdue
West Lafayette, Ind. — As the wins kept piling up, the talk kept getting louder.
Could Michigan State, the last undefeated team left in the Big Ten, actually go through the 20-game schedule without a blemish? Or at the very least, how long would the run last?
The answer came Sunday afternoon at Mackey Arena, and thanks in equal parts to a tough schedule, a couple of critical injuries and a woeful first half, it came in the form of Purdue’s 73-63 victory.
The loss ended a 13-game winning streak for No. 6 Michigan State, which hadn’t lost since an overtime setback at Louisville on Nov. 27. It also halted a 21-game Big Ten regular-season run, the last loss coming to Michigan on Jan. 13, 2018.
It all unraveled Sunday thanks in large part to Purdue’s defense and some hot shooting early from the Boilermakers, but the fact Michigan State (18-3, 9-1 Big Ten) was playing its third game in six days and fourth road game in the last five had plenty to do with it, as well.
The legs were clearly not there from the outset as the Spartans were beaten to nearly every loose ball and were missing plenty of shots they typically make. They also played without guard Joshua Langford (ankle) for the eighth game in a row while junior guard Kyle Ahrens sat with a back injury he aggravated in Thursday’s victory at Iowa.
“I think it was a combination of it all,” guard Cassius Winston said. “We had a tough stretch and made it out of some really good games. (Purdue) played extremely well and it seemed like the ball went in the net every time and we didn’t play well at all. We had a stretch where we played well but the overall game we didn't play good, and that hurts.”
Thanks to 23 points and eight assists from Winston, as well as 12 points and another solid defensive performance from Matt McQuaid, the Spartans almost pulled off a miraculous comeback.
Trailing by 23 points with just less than 12 minutes to play, a four-point play from Winston ignited a 14-0 run to get the Spartans within single digits.
“They get down six or get down 20 and they have you right where they want you,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “So yeah, you’re nervous the whole damn time. I was nervous until 30 seconds. They’re a good team.”
Michigan State eventually pulled within four points, but Carsen Edwards drew a foul on McQuaid and hit three free throws while Nojel Eastern hit six straight free throws to end Michigan State’s rally.
Ryan Cline scored 17 to lead Purdue (14-6, 7-2) while Edwards had 14, Eastern scored 12, Aaron Wheeler had 11 and Matt Haarms chipped in 10 for the Boilermakers.
“The second half we were much better,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “The first half it was them but we were a joke. We weren’t stepping up on the ball screens and we thought it was more effort-related and maybe it was fatigue related.
“All in all, it was hell of a game, a better game for the home team but we did bounce back and it showed no quit in us. We just didn’t have enough guys play good and with the freshmen it was a little deer in headlights.”
It was clear early that Michigan State was a step behind as the Spartans made just two of their first 12 shots while the Boilermakers took advantage, jumping to a 10-point lead in the first five minutes of the game and feeding off the sellout crowd from there.
Purdue made seven 3-pointers in the first half, including three from Wheeler while Cline also hit a pair. Eric Hunter Jr. hit his only triple of the half in the final seconds to give the Boilermakers a 37-19 lead, their largest of the half. Michigan State failed to convert on its final possession heading to halftime.
The Spartans were just 7-for-31 shooting in the first half, including 3-for-14 from 3-point range.
The onslaught from the Boilermakers continued in the second half as they made three straight 3-pointers in the first three minutes and eventually took a 55-32 lead with 13:14 to play.
Michigan State started to come to life with 11:51 to play after Winston’s four-point play as the Spartans pulled to within 55-46 with 8:43 left after a three-point play from Xavier Tillman. After Purdue ended nearly five minutes without a bucket at the other end, Winston buried a triple to make it 57-49 with 8:13 left in the game. A McQuaid layup was answered by a Cline three but Kenny Goins hit one of his own, and when Aaron Henry scored on a layup in transition, the Spartans were within 60-56 with 5:14 to play.
That’s when Edwards got the call and Eastern put the game away at the line.
“I take solace in it’s been a rough five games, four on the road and three in this past week,” Izzo said. “And we were traveling twice and down two bodies. That’s what I take solace in. We didn’t quit. We bounced back.”