Durham, N.C. — For roughly 35 minutes on Tuesday night, Michigan State played with one of the best teams in the nation.
But as it has been in several of the Spartans’ losses early in the season, playing a full 40 minutes has eluded them, and at Cameron Indoor Stadium against No. 5 Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, it was a roughly two-minute stretch that determined the outcome.
With game tied at 48, the Blue Devils rattled off 11 straight to take control of a tightly contested battle and hold on for the 78-69 victory.
“I thought we played probably 33, 34 minutes of good basketball,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “But you’re not beating good teams, especially on the road. I should say great team because I think they’ve got a great team. You’re not beating a great team on the road if you don’t play all 40 minutes and that has been a problem for us, so we have to go back to work.”
Tom Izzo talks about Michigan State coming up short at Duke
Michigan State (4-4) was confident coming into the game of a third-place finish last week in the Bahamas at the Battle 4 Atlantis, and it showed early on as the teams were tied at 35 at halftime and went back and forth for the first seven minutes of the second half.
But the persistent problem with turnovers crept up with 18 for the game and 10 in the second half as Duke took advantage with 19 points on those turnovers.
“Those turnovers that lead to layups have been a problem,” Izzo said. “But they’re going to continue to be a problem until we get more disciplined with the ball. There’s too much AAU ball out there and not enough college ball.”
That sort of play led to a tough night for freshman Miles Bridges, who scored 11 points and had nine rebounds but was just 4-for-13 shooting.
Miles Bridges said he was "non-existent" at times in MSU's loss to Duke
“It’s the whole team but got to step up, too,” Bridges said. “I was nonexistent for the whole game, couldn’t get anything going. So just the whole team has got to stay focused.”
Eron Harris was Michigan State’s best offensive weapon for much of the night, scoring 14 points while Nick Ward added 11 and Kenny Goins chipped in 10.
Grayson Allen scored 24 to lead Duke (7-1), whose only loss this season came to Kansas in the Champions Classic. Luke Kennard added 20 points for the Blue Devils while Amile Jefferson scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Frank Jackson chipped in 11.
“We did a lot of things that were pretty good,” Izzo said. “We rebounded decent, did decent job of defending without fouling too much. I thought we did a decent job defensively. I did not think our offense, other than the fast break, was very good. Just got a lot of standing around, no movement. All in all, Duke has got a very good team.”
The game was tight until midway through the second half. Tied at 48 after a fast-break layup from Cassius Winston, things started to go in the wrong direction for the Spartans. Allen converted a three-point play followed by a running layup from Jackson.
It got worse when a Ward put-back dunk was waved off and Jackson dashed in for another layup followed by a Michigan State turnover and a Kennard jumper to give the Blue Devils a 57-48 lead with 12:10 to play before a pair of Allen free throws pushed the run to 11-0.
Michigan State started to trim into the deficit and cut it to 59-53, but a turnover from Bridges led to a Jackson 3-pointer that pushed the lead back to nine. And following another 3-pointer from Kennard, the Blue Devils took their biggest lead at 67-55 with 7:08 to play.
Michigan State cut the lead to 77-69 in the final minute, but it wasn’t enough for a comeback.
Tum Tum Nairn talks about MSU's loss to Duke
“We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the ball,” guard Lourawls Nairn said. “A lot of unforced turnovers. We’ve got do a better job of taking care of the ball. We played a lot of minutes well. The next step is to put 40 minutes together. That will make us a better team.”
Through the first half, there was good reason for the Spartans to be feeling good as they were tied with the Blue Devils, 35-35. While Bridges was contained for the most part with six points, Michigan State got eight points from Harris while Ward scored six. The Spartans were having trouble corralling Jefferson as the 6-foot-9 senior had 11 points and seven rebounds. Kennard and Allen added eight points each for the Blue Devils.
Michigan State returns home on Saturday to host Oral Roberts at 4:30 p.m. It’s the first home game since hosting Florida Gulf Coast on Nov. 20.
“We made progress tonight,” Izzo said. “In all honesty, I think we made progress in every game we played — Arizona, Kentucky only for 25 minutes, but we did make progress. It’s sustaining that and that’s what the freshmen are maybe having a little trouble doing.”