Nolan Bianchi with three quick takeaways from Michigan State's 61-51 loss to Texas Tech in the NCAA Tournament national championship semfinal Saturday.
After its performances against Michigan and Gonzaga, was anybody really surprised that Texas Tech made things difficult for Michigan State with its stingy defense? The Red Raiders gave the Spartans no room to breathe, forcing Michigan State into deep shot clocks resulting in poor looks for a majority of the first half.
Not only did it lead to a 12-5 Tech run in the half's final 10:37, it also exhausted the Spartans — particularly Matt McQuaid, who played all 20 minutes of the first half and scored nine points before missing his last three shots.
Another area of trouble for the Spartans in the first half? Michigan State turned the ball over seven times and lacked scoring diversity. Cassius Winston matched McQuaid with nine; Aaron Henry's early 3-pointer made him the only other Spartan to score in the first half.
Even in the second half, Michigan State failed to look comfortable at any point in its loss to Texas Tech on Saturday night. There are a couple issues that can shoulder the blame.
For starters, the Spartans were never able to set a pace on offense. Facing Texas Tech's vaunted defense, Michigan State turned it over on 19.3 percent of its possessions. Sure-handed Winston had four to his credit alone, as the Spartans finished with 11 total. All things considered, the amount of turnovers alone isn't enough to tell the whole story. I mean, hey, the Spartans had 22 in a dominant 20-point win over Minnesota in the round of 32.
But when they weren't turning it over, Tech's defense was forcing the Spartans into deep shot clocks and poor shots, a major contributor to Michigan State's 32-percent shooting figure and inability to be efficient.
Secondly, Michigan State's defense wasn't creating offense. Whereas the Spartans scored 24 points off turnovers and 15 fast-break points in Sunday's Elite Eight win over Duke, the Spartans had just 10 points off turnovers and two fast-break points against Tech, a unit of quicksand that drags its opponents further into its own demise as time ticks off the clock.
Lastly, when Michigan State's perimeter and mid-range game was off, the big men failed to pick up the slack. Michigan State had 14 points in the paint. Xavier Tillman, who exploded onto the scene with a 19-point, nine-rebound performance against Duke, didn't score until 7:59 remained. Nick Ward scored just five. Kenny Goins, the hero against the Blue Devils, was held scoreless and finished 0-for-4 from the floor.
MSU gets beat inside
Bend, don't break. Through Michigan State's conference and NCAA tournament runs, that was the philosophy that kept the Spartans coming out ahead in close games time and time again.
To open the first, Texas Tech toppled Michigan State's defensive posture both inside and out, making nine of its first 11 shots — a run concluded by back-to-back 3-pointers by Matt Mooney, who finished with a tournament-high 22.
The Red Raiders shot 56 percent from the field in the second half and 50 percent from 3, allowing it to push away the opposition after Michigan State rattled off 7 points in a row to make it a 1-point game with 2:54 left.
While it was Mooney putting on the show, Tech's Jarrett Culver — who's draft stock has skyrocketed since this tournament began — pulled down the curtain. He scored seven in the game's final 2:29 to send the Red Raiders to their first ever National Championship Game.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer