Michigan State seeking more shots for Gabe Brown to offset other issues

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

There are some clear reasons Michigan State has struggled over the last few weeks, most of them talked about and dissected ad nauseum.

From turnovers to poor rebounding to a drop-off defensively, it’s all contributed as No. 14 Michigan State saw its nine-game winning streak come to an end with a loss at home on Saturday to Northwestern. It was the culmination of a handful of lackluster performances, and while the Spartans managed to get away with it in wins over Minnesota, Nebraska and at Northwestern in early January, it all caught up to them last weekend.

Michigan State's Gabe Brown is garnering more defensive attention.

Each of the reasons are valid. Turnovers have been a problem all season while the rebounding and defensive issues have been more recent.

But a deeper look into what has been transpiring over the last few games offers some more ideas on what has limited Michigan State and what needs to improve for the Spartans to get back on the winning track, beginning Friday night at No. 8 Wisconsin.

More: Rugged road stretch awaits Michigan State, starting at Wisconsin

One is getting more shots for senior Gabe Brown. Michigan State’s leading scorer has been as consistent as any other point in his career, failing to reach double digits in scoring only once this season and making at least one 3-pointer in all but one game.

Over the last handful of games, however, teams are starting to put more focus on containing Brown.

“He is getting more attention,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Like Johnny Davis (from Wisconsin), he had those big, big games and all of a sudden he's getting more attention. And all that's kind of the way the world works. Every coach is smart enough to know you're going to get beat by your weaknesses, not by your strengths. So you don't want to let somebody beat you with their strength.”

Brown had been getting plenty of shots, especially once Big Ten games began back in in early December. He had a stretch of five straight games where he took 11 shots or more each game, including 17 shots in the win over High Point when he also fired 13 3-pointers.

Shooting nearly 40% from 3-point range, those are the sorts of numbers Izzo and the Spartans are comfortable with getting from Brown, who was plagued early in his career by taking low-quality shots early in possessions but has become one of the Spartans’ most reliable offensive players.

Opponents see that, too, and they’re making Brown a focal point. He took just seven shots in the two-point win over Minnesota and in the loss to Northwestern, Brown finished 4-for-10 but took only three shots in the entire second half when he played 17 minutes.

“Teams are doing a good job of trying to deny me, trying to not let me get the ball,” Brown said after the loss to the Wildcats. “What happens is we’ve got other guys, other players than can step up like Julius (Marble) did today and he did a good job of sitting in the high post and just scoring the rock and it turns out we just didn't come out with a win today.”

There are other options for the Spartans, and some of those options have been struggling to produce lately, as well. Marcus Bingham Jr. hasn’t been the same since battling COVID and freshman Max Christie had arguably his worst game as a Spartan in the Northwestern loss, going 1-for-8 from the field, including 0-for-5 from 3-point range.

Both are expected to work their way out of their current slump but getting Brown more involved will be critical as Michigan State follows Friday night’s game at Wisconsin with a trip to Illinois on Tuesday followed by a visit from Michigan next weekend.

“Gabe has gotten more attention but we’ve gotta get him more than seven shots,” Izzo said. “He got to the free-throw line eight times (against Northwestern) and made all eight of them, and that was encouraging, and you get more shots by not turning the ball. But we’ve got to get Gabe 12, 13 shots. We’re not going to do that no matter how they guard him if we turn the ball over.”


Twitter: @mattcharboneau