'Fed up' Michigan State hits reverse, shines through for 78-71 victory at Indiana
Ten minutes had elapsed on Saturday afternoon at Assembly Hall, and not much looked different for Michigan State.
Stuck in the muck of a miserable season, the Spartans had turned the ball over eight times, were only 4-for-15 shooting and couldn’t stop fouling the Hoosiers.
In other words, a familiar script was being written, one that was surely going to end with another Michigan State loss in what is shaping up to be a forgettable season.
But a funny thing happened with the Spartans stopped giving the ball away and remembered one of their pregame goals they’ve been hammering on for the last few days — to play connected. It was then that Michigan State started to look like the team that had a perfect non-conference record and one many expected would be right up near the top of the Big Ten standings.
Shots started to fall, the stars showed up and Michigan rallied to a 78-71 victory over Indiana, ending a two-game skid and giving at least a glimmer of hope headed down the stretch.
“Everybody’s just trying to do their job,” senior Joshua Langford said. “And when your back is against the wall, it’s OK to feel the feeling of wanting to quit, but it’s not OK to embrace that feeling and quit. And I think nobody has quit.”
Or, as Aaron Henry put it, the Spartans were simply “fed up” with losing.
“We came in and we played together and we got the win, man,” Henry said. “The guys, we all played for each other, and yeah, I kind of got that feeling of being fed up, honestly.”
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So, instead of watching the season continue to spiral out of control, the Spartans (11-9, 5-9 Big Ten) head into the final two-week flurry with at least a small bit of confidence.
“Things don't get an easier next week with two ranked teams,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “But it’s a lot more exciting to go into those with a win under your belt where you play good to win. And I bet we played 30 minutes of really good basketball and that'll hopefully help motivate us and give us a little boost going into this wicked stretch we’ve got.”
Once the first, ugly 10 minutes elapsed, Izzo was right, the Spartans played as well as they have in weeks. Henry, Langford and Gabe Brown all played critical roles. Henry (Indianapolis) matched a career high with 27 points to win for the first time in his home state, Langford scored 14, including eight in a row as Michigan State took control of the game in the second half, and Brown added 14 points on 4-for-8 shooting from 3-point range.
Trayce Jackson-Davis was a load the entire game, scoring 34 to lead Indiana (12-10, 7-8) while Race Thompson scored 15 and Armaan Franklin chipped in 13 for the Hoosiers.
“They went small I thought to their advantage,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “They had Gabe Brown in there, with Henry and Rocket (Watts), one center. They spread us out in the second half. I thought that lineup really caused some problems for us at times.”
It was that lineup — with Joey Hauser and Malik Hall spending plenty of time on the bench, along with freshman point guard A.J. Hoggard — that helped overcome the rough start, which allowed Indiana to build a 19-8 lead.
But things turned for the Spartans as they started to take care of the ball and made it tougher for Jackson-Davis to get the ball. A 16-5 run for Michigan State that was capped with a jumper from Henry, tied the game at 26 with 2:52 to play in the opening half. Indiana scored the last four points of the half, taking a 30-26 lead to the locker room, scoring 11 points off Michigan State’s 10 turnovers.
The second half had a similar start, only this time Michigan State subbed fouls for turnovers as Indiana quickly pushed its lead to 38-29 less than three minutes into the half. The margin stayed at nine before the Spartans started to come to life.
That’s when the smaller lineup really started to hit its stride.
Langford scored eight points in a row and Michigan State nailed four 3-pointers as it put together an 18-2 run to take a 57-52 lead with 7:56 to play. Jackson-Davis responded with a three-point play to pull the Hoosiers within two, but by the time Watts buried a triple to put the Spartans ahead, 70-58, it was the end of a 31-10 stretch for Michigan State.
“I felt that helped a lot and put us in a small ball situation where their bigs had to guard us,” Brown said. “It stretched them out a little bit more and Henny, Rocket, Josh, they did a lot of great things, finding me, finding the open guy, and getting the job done.”
The Hoosiers had a little fight left and scored the next six points but Watts responded with a runner to push the Spartans’ lead to 72-64 with 2:46 to play. Indiana pulled within 75-71 on a triple from Franklin with 37 seconds to play, but the Spartans put the game away with a few stops in the final seconds.
“It was good to get one,” Henry said. “But we were quick to remind ourselves that we've won before and we've been in this situation before. We know how to win with class and know how to take things. Now, we have to carry this on to the next game and try to grow.”
That’s been the toughest thing for Michigan State to do this season. The Spartans have won two in a row in conference place just twice this season and with No. 5 Illinois and No. 4 Ohio State up next, it won’t be easy to do it for a third time.
Still, the feeling is far better than it has been for the Spartans.
“I know this,” Izzo said. “It’s going to be a lot easier to get up for Illinois after a win. … I'm proud of this team because we hung in there. Some teams would have quit and they never did. And I’ve (been saying) that the whole time.
“We’ve got a long way to go yet, but we’re still breathing and we’re still looking forward to Tuesday night.”