Michigan State's Cassius Winston and Rocket Watts talk about the loss to Kentucky in the Champions Classic on Tuesday night in New York. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing – Maybe Michigan State’s players were rushing their shots in Tuesday’s loss to Kentucky, as senior Kyle Ahrens suggested.
Perhaps moving the 3-point line back nearly a foot-and-a-half had players unsure of where they were on the court, leading to deeper shot attempts than necessary, as Michigan State coach Tom Izzo mentioned.
Or, maybe it was just one of those nights, something nearly everyone associated with the top-ranked team in the nation agreed with, at least to an extent.
Whatever the primary reason, there’s no doubt Michigan State (0-1) will need to shoot the ball far better than it did in the opening loss of the season to the second-ranked Wildcats. The Spartans finished the game 22-for-56 (.393) but were just 5-for-26 (.192) from 3-point range.
“I just felt like we rushed some shots,” said Ahrens, the fifth-year senior who was 1-for-3 on 3-pointers, missing two open looks late in the game. “It’s the first game of the year. It’s big stage for a lot of people, it’s the first game the freshmen got to play like that with that atmosphere. So, when you get out there, you're anxious to get a shot, and when you get one you want to put it up.
“So we still gotta do a better job of reminding each other just to slow each other down and just let it fly.”
The 19.2 percent shooting performance from 3-point range was, ironically, the worst since the last time Michigan State played Kentucky in the Champions Classic. In that matchup in New York in 2016, the Spartans shot an identical 5-for-26 in a 69-48 loss to the Wildcats.
It wasn’t exactly a sign of things to come as Michigan State finished the season shooting 37.3 percent on 3-pointers on its way to a Big Ten championship.
Back then, though, the 3-point line was at 20 feet, 9 inches. This season it’s been moved back to 22 feet, 1 ¾ inches, the same as the international 3-point line. That’s nearly a foot-and-a-half difference, but from freshmen like Rocket Watts and Malik Hall, it’s an even bigger adjustment since the high school line is at 19 feet, 9 inches.
“Usually the difference every foot out is probably 10 percentage points for the average guy,” Izzo said. “So some of those guys have 20 percentage points less. Say he shot 40 (percent) in high school, you might be shooting 20 here right now, which you won’t win any games doing that.
“So that's going to be an adjustment for guys. For Cassius Winston and Joey Hauser, that line could be at half court. It doesn't matter. But for 90 percent of the guys it is a big difference.”
A review of the film from Tuesday’s loss shows Izzo was at least right on one point – the Spartans were consistently taking shots well behind the 3-point line, making the distance even greater than it should be.
While it’s an adjustment, the Spartans admit it can be confusing, even on their own practice court, which includes the women’s line, the current men’s line and the NBA distance, a line MSU includes because of all the former players that spend time in the offseason working out in East Lansing.
“Our guys are shooting from everywhere,” Izzo said.
While Watts admitted there is an adjustment coming from high school, Ahrens, who entered the season as a career 31-percent shooter, said it was just as significant for those that have gotten used to the old college distance.
“Yeah, especially in the deep corner,” said Ahrens, who missed one from the corner against Kentucky. “I’m always in the deep corner, so I’m watching the sideline. It's been a struggle not getting too far back and being able to see the line because you tend to fall back when you can't see it. So it's just more of getting repetition out of it.”
As Michigan State gets set to take on Binghamton on Sunday, it will focus on staying out of foul trouble, taking care of the ball – it had 16 turnovers against Kentucky – and putting the ball in the basket.
“You can't correct missed shots,” Izzo said. “You’ve just got to shoot the ball better.
“You’ve got to make shots. You’ve got to get your confidence. You’ve got to man up and that’s what everybody’s got to do.”