East Lansing — Tom Izzo was as blunt as he could be late Tuesday night at Breslin Center.
“Outcoached, outplayed and outworked,” Izzo said.
It was about the only conclusion that made sense after No. 10 Duke started quickly and rarely let up, racing past No. 11 Michigan State, 87-75, in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Everything was set up for a big night for the home team as the Blue Devils and coach Mike Krzyzewski were in town for the marquee matchup and Draymond Green was on hand for his No. 23 to be sent to the rafters as the Spartans legend was having his number retired.
The building was buzzing, but it didn’t take long for that buzz to turn to a collective sigh from a frustrated packed house.
Duke freshman big man Vernon Carey, who was showered with cheers the last time he was in East Lansing as a prized recruit, was nearly unstoppable for Duke, scoring 26 points while grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking three shots. Sophomore guard Tre Jones added 20 points and 12 assists for the Blue Devils (8-1) while Joey Baker scored 11, Javin DeLaurier added 10 points and Matthew Hurt scored 10 as Duke also blocked 11 shots.
Junior Xavier Tillman scored 20 for Michigan State (5-3) while sophomore Marcus Bingham added 13 points and senior Cassius Winston scored 12 points on 4-for-14 shooting.
“I'm embarrassed a player that I love came back here and probably laid some of the groundwork with Mateen Cleaves on toughness and I didn't think that we played with that tonight,” Izzo said. “I'm sure there were some bright spots. Xavier definitely was one and I thought Marcus was one. A couple guys competed and I thought some guys, you know, didn't compete as well. But that's my job so I’m the only one who should be held accountable for that.”
After a fast-paced start in the opening minutes, the first half quickly became a Duke runaway. A 7-0 run late in the first half give the Blue Devils a 32-18 lead that eventually grew to 36-20 after a Jones layup. Michigan State pulled to within 12, but Rocket Watts had his shot blocked in transition and Duke scored the final four points of the half to take a 45-29 lead into the locker room.
Michigan State turned the ball over eight times in the first half and was outrebounded, 23-14, while it made just one of seven attempts from 3-point range.
“I just thought that we looked like the moment was too big,” Izzo said of the opening half.
For Winston, it was a matter of a few mistakes snowballing in the wrong direction.
“A couple of things go wrong, a couple plays that you're supposed to make, a couple mistakes that you make,” Winston said. “In a game like this it’s hard for a lot of guys to kind of rally back together and move on. That's just because how big the game is so it happens. We just have to figure out what we can do to learn from it.”
Michigan State showed some life to begin the second half, using a 9-2 run to pull within 46-38 after a 3-pointer in transition from Winston that led to a quick timeout for Duke. It was all the Blue Devils needed to stem the tide as Carey scored the next five points as the lead eventually grew to 63-46 on an acrobatic layup from Jones.
“They’re a very deep team and the foul trouble that we had, especially in the first half, it can kind of mess you up a little bit,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “And then they hit us with that run right away, and I thought our kids really did a great job after the timeout of regaining poise and getting control the game.”
The lead eventually grew to 22 just past the midway point of the second half as Michigan State never mounted another comeback and ran out of gas trying to defend Carey.
“I put a lot of it on myself,” Tillman said. “You know, it's hard to keep that morale up when you're down by 18 with six minutes left and it's like, ‘Man, every time we score they score and we can't even, like, get in that run.’ So, for me, I did bad as far as leadership by just not keeping that fight. But I can definitely learn from it and know that until the fat lady sings, until the whistle blows, I gotta keep going.”
Michigan State now gets set to begin Big Ten play on Sunday when it hosts Rutgers, a game that will be just the fourth home game of the season for the Spartans.
Before that, however, it will be plenty of work trying to put Tuesday’s one-sided loss in the past.
“As I said, outcoached, outplayed and outworked,” Izzo said. “Cassius has a lot on his plate, and when we started putting too many young guys in … Xavier got in foul trouble, and we got away from what we were going to run. Xavier bounced back and did a pretty good job, but they hit shots. They hit some shots that I haven't seen them hit. Consequently, the better team won. It probably was by a worse score than what it was.”