MSU coach Tom Izzo met the media after Saturday's loss to Indiana. The Detroit News
Bloomington, Ind. – A few days ago, as Michigan State was basking in the glow of its road victory at Michigan, the Spartans talked about being in the position to control their own destiny in the Big Ten.
At that point, with three games to play, Michigan State would repeat as conference champions if it won out. A trip to Indiana was up next with home games the last week of the regular season against Nebraska and Michigan.
There were no guarantees, but the Spartans were at least glad it was all up to them.
Just like that, they need help again after failing to score in the final 4:13 Saturday on their way to a 63-62 loss at the hands of the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall.
“Obviously, it’s disappointing,” sophomore forward Xavier Tillman said, “because you know you put yourself in a good position and then get taken out of that good position literally the next game. So, it’s a little tough, but we’re just gonna have to work through it and hope for the best.”
No. 6 Michigan State (23-6, 14-4 Big Ten) now sits a full game behind Purdue, which rolled over Ohio State on Saturday. The Spartans are currently in a second-place tie with Michigan, which plays at Maryland on Sunday.
The road is easier for Purdue (22-7, 15-3), which plays at Minnesota and Northwestern to close out the season. After Sunday’s game, Michigan has just the rematch with Michigan State left. None of it seemed to matter to Michigan State coach Tom Izzo on Saturday.
“I don’t care,” Izzo said. “I’m gonna worry about my team and if somebody helps us they help us and if they don’t they don’t. We had destiny in our hands and we didn’t answer the bell. I’m just gonna get our team ready to play Nebraska. That’s what I have to get ready to do is play Nebraska.
“I’m not worried about the Big Ten championship. I’m worried about winning another game. If we win another game we put ourselves in a chance where we have a chance. If we don’t have a chance we don’t win the league and have nobody to blame but ourselves.”
MSU's Matt McQuaid, Xavier Tillman, Cassius Winston and Kenny Goins met the media after Saturday's loss to Indiana. The Detroit News
The Spartans were attempting to repeat as regular-season champions for the first time since winning in 2009 and 2010. Now winning the final two games might not be enough as the seeding for the Big Ten tournament remains up in the air outside of the fact Michigan State has locked up a double-bye.
“I hate to put in someone else’s hands and it’s not in our hands anymore,” Cassius Winston said. “It’s in another team’s hands but we have to focus on our games, one game at time. We’ve had a really good season and a lot of things have gone our way this year. Maybe one more thing will go our way.”
Injuries play role
Michigan State has had its injury issues all season and they continued to hamper the Spartans on Saturday.
Junior Matt McQuaid didn’t practice all week because of a sprained ankle but managed to play more than 35 minutes. He defended well but was just 3-for-8 shooting and scored only six points. Junior wing Kyle Ahrens was also limited to only 10 minutes of action because of his back tightening up in the second half.
McQuaid said after the game there was some soreness in his right ankle but said it shouldn’t have limited him. As for Ahrens, Izzo wondered how much he’d be able to play the rest of the season.
“I made a coaching mistake trying to play Kyle Ahrens, he just couldn’t go,” Izzo said. “He kind of told me a little late, but poor kid just couldn’t get off the bench. Kyle is probably, potentially, maybe done. I don’t know.”
It would be big news if Ahrens is done for the season, but odds are he continues to piece together minutes however he can for the rest of the year.
Matt Charboneau breaks down Michigan State's loss at Indiana The Detroit News
“The problem was I thought Kyle was OK to play until right after halftime,” Izzo said. “There’s an advantage with a tough kid and a disadvantage. A tough kid is always gonna say he can play. He finally says, ‘I can’t even get off the seat.’ You appreciate it, but you also say, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’”
As for junior center Nick Ward, Izzo isn’t putting any expectations on when he might return from his broken hand.
“I don't know. I am hoping in a week, week and a half, two weeks,” Izzo said. “But understand this, he's got a broken hand. … I am not waiting for Nick to come back. I need Nick to come back, but I can't rely on that. He'll come back, he's been working his tail off. Some of this is in a lot bigger hands than mind, so I really can't even speculate on that, except that I've heard from numerous people around the country that in three to four weeks guys have come back.
“Now, coming back and being able to play at a high level are two different things. But 10 minutes of him banging around in there probably would have helped us. Could it be the Michigan game? Could it be the Big Ten Tournament? If I was betting man, I would say somewhere in between that.”