St. Louis — Michigan State entered Friday’s matchup against Middle Tennessee as one of the best defensive teams in the country.
The Spartans ranked second in shooting percentage defense (.377) and 11th in 3-point shooting percentage defense (.302).
Against the Blue Raiders, however, the Spartans suffered their worst defensive game, and it resulted in a 90-81 loss and a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament.
“We were concerned, but in my wildest dreams I didn’t think they’d hit some of the shots they hit,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I was more disappointed in the way we turned the ball over and did things that didn’t give ourselves a chance. I mean, we were shooting 50 percent ourselves, you know?
“We just turned it over too much and we didn’t give ourselves a chance to score. And then we didn’t guard them real good. But, man, they made some shots. Boy, really take my hat off to them on some of the shots they made.”
The Blue Raiders finished 33-for-59 (.559), including 11-for-19 (.579) from 3-point range. Both were the best for any Spartans opponent this season.
Middle Tennessee’s 90 points were also the second-most allowed this season by Michigan State, who gave up 93 in an overtime victory against Oakland.
“We just failed defensively today,” senior Matt Costello said. “That’s where we’ve hung our hat all year, and we couldn’t stop them.”
The 3-pointers were coming from everywhere in the first half. Middle Tennessee was 8-for-12 in the opening 20 minutes and four players scored from long range.
The biggest was from guard Jaqawn Raymond late in the first half. Late in the shot clock, Raymond nailed a 3-pointer from well behind the line and was fouled by Denzel Valentine on the play. He made the free throw to put Middle Tennessee up 41-33.
“They were hitting a lot of crazy shots,” said Valentine, who said he was leery of the upset-minded Blue Raiders. “I was nervous because I just know how if I was playing for Middle Tennessee and playing against Michigan State I know how I would be. There was nothing to lose and if they lose, it was supposed to happen. They had nothing to lose and were playing like it. We got beat by the better team.”
Goins returns, leaves
Redshirt freshman Kenny Goins played for the first time since injuring his left knee against Indiana on Feb. 14. He, however, didn’t last long, playing four minutes before two players fell into his left knee going for a rebound.
Goins was on the floor until play was stopped before limping to the bench favoring the leg. He did not return.
Michigan State is 19-7 in the round of 64 and 14-5 under Izzo. It was the third time the Spartans were a No. 2 seed and the first time they didn’t reach the national title game as a No. 2 seed.
They won in the national championship in 1979 over Indiana State as the 2-seed and lost to North Carolina in Detroit in 2009.
… Michigan State is 4-2 in NCAA Tournament games in St. Louis.
… Costello had one block, giving him 146 for his career, the best in Michigan State history.