Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News talks about Michigan State's loss to Virginia Tech in the first game of the Maui Invitational. The Detroit News
Lahaina, Hawaii — It didn’t take long for basketball in paradise to turn into a nightmare for Michigan State.
With Virginia Tech nailing 3-pointers from all over the court, Cassius Winston on the bench for large parts of the first half in foul trouble, and big man Xavier Tillman struggling to hang on to the ball while committing five turnovers, things simply didn’t add up for the No. 3 Spartans on Monday at the Lahaina Civic Center on the first day of the Maui Invitational.
What did add up was the formula for an upset, one Virginia Tech was happy to achieve with the 71-66 victory over Michigan State.
“Well, I've said this for 20 years,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Upsets happen, and that's no insult to (Virginia Tech), but it is an upset. Upsets happen with the 3-point shot and foul trouble, and we had both, along with a bunch of missed layups.”
The 3-point shot was the big one as Virginia Tech (6-0) was 10-for-21, the biggest coming with 47.5 seconds to play when Landers Nolley came off a double screen and nailed his fourth of the game to put the Hokies up by four, just as Michigan State has seized momentum.
Nolley, who scored 22, said his coach called a good play.
Mike Young, the Hokies’ first-year coach wasn’t buying it.
“I got nothing to do with it, come on,” Young said. “He was being kind. He's a nice kid. That's a really good player making a big-league play. …
"That was a really good play and probably it went a long way in getting us out of here with a significant win.”
It certainly did, and in the process, it dashed Michigan State’s hopes of winning another preseason tournament after capturing the PK80 two years ago and the Las Vegas Invitational last year. It also ended any hope of a Michigan State-Kansas matchup in Wednesday’s championship game as the Spartans (3-2) fall to the losers’ bracket and will face Georgia at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Dayton beat Georgia, 80-61, earlier Monday.
The loss came complete with 16 turnovers, five from Tillman, while Winston was held to just seven points on 2-for-8 shooting. Aaron Henry did his best to rally the Spartans, scoring 18, but it wasn’t enough and had Izzo saying he was sorry to the large Michigan State contingent that helped fill the Lahaina Civic Center.
“I publicly want to apologize to maybe the greatest fan group that was here,” Izzo said. “I feel like I let them down and it's been an interesting couple of weeks and we just weren't as sharp today.”
It was clear from the outset that Michigan State was not sharp.
The Spartans had not played in a week, and it showed as they were sloppy in the first half, committing 11 first-half turnovers, most of the issues coming after Winston checked out with his second foul with just less than 10 minutes left in the half and Michigan State holding a one-point lead.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is joined by Cassius Winston and Aaron Henry as they attempt to explain the loss to Virginia Tech in Maui. The Detroit News
The Spartans also went cold from the field. After Kyle Ahrens gave Michigan State a 16-13 lead with a jumper from the corner, the Spartans made just one of the next 11 shots. Watts buried a couple of deep 3-pointers late in the half to keep the game from getting out of hand as Virginia Tech took a 32-28 lead into the locker room.
“I thought the determining factor in the game started in the first couple minutes when plays we had gone over and our bigs just did not execute,” Izzo said. “And we gave up some threes and wide open shots right off the bat and it happens. And somehow, some way — we didn't spend a lot of time on the beach. I promise you, we will spend no time on the beach tonight, tomorrow or tomorrow night. So we're going to spend some time in that walkthrough room and we won't make those mistakes again.”
The mistakes weren’t as prevalent in the second half, but the Hokies were still making big buckets.
Michigan State rallied back to take a 40-38 lead on a jump hook from Julius Marble with 13:11 left in the game, but Virginia Tech punched right back, eventually taking a 46-42 lead after Nahiem Alleyne completed a three-point play. The teams traded 3-pointers before a put-back from Thomas Kithier got Michigan State within two at 51-49 with 7:42 left in the game.
But Virginia Tech took over from there, using an 8-0 run to take a 59-49 lead with 4:37 to play.
That’s when Michigan State started to come alive, and when Henry scored on a layup with 2:05 to play, the Spartans were within 63-61. A bucket from Nolley was followed by a Henry three. But Nolley then hit a deep three with 47.5 seconds to play to put Virginia Tech up, 68-64.
Michigan State had several chances from there, but Winston missed a shot in the lane and Tillman had a 3-pointer pop in and out as Virginia Tech made enough free throws in the final minute to clinch the victory.
“It's all about learning how to win. That's what it comes down to,” Winston said. “Not every game's going to go perfect. Not everything's going to work in your favor. But at the end of the day you still got to figure out a way to win and that's what these tournaments do.
“Today we didn't do that. We made some crucial mistakes and things like that, that we got to change going down the road. But these tournaments just teach you how to win as a team, back-to-back to back.”