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Izzo 'embarrassed' by Spartans' loss to Nittany Lions

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Tom Izzo

Philadelphia — Three days earlier, Tom Izzo walked away from a 28-point victory worried about the energy his team played with.

By Saturday afternoon, he had all sorts of adjectives for Michigan State’s performance against Penn State at The Palestra, a 72-63 victory for the Nittany Lions, the first Big Ten loss for Michigan State and the first victory over the Spartans after seven straight losses for Penn State coach Pat Chambers.

“I’m embarrassed in a city where basketball is like this and my team played like they did in the first half,” Izzo said. “We guarded nobody, played with no energy and I was totally frustrated with the way we played. … This was humiliating for me in this great city and great basketball venue and our players did not play and I did not have them ready to play. So the whole thing falls on me. I’m tired of explaining why I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. I see us getting better and the minute I say it we take that for granted

“My apologies to this magnificent facility. I loved the experience and appreciate everything about it, but I feel like we cheated those who’ve seen great teams and great coaches and great players play here, got robbed today by the team in green.”

BOX SCORE: Penn State 72, Michigan State 63

That first half proved to be critical as Michigan State (11-6, 3-1 Big Ten) started four freshmen for the first time as Miles Bridges returned to join Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford along with senior Eron Harris. Only Ward was effective as he scored 16 points while junior Tum Tum Nairn chipped in 13.

Penn State took advantage and after controlling much of the play in the opening half, scored the final seven points to turn a five-point lead into 12 in less than two minutes.

Michigan State trailed, 37-32, and had a chance to cut into the deficit when Harris’ deep 3-pointer missed badly. He followed that with a traveling violation while Penn State was getting five straight points from Lamar Stevens and a final drive to the basket from Tony Carr. The Spartans failed to hit a pair of shots in the final seconds as the Nittany Lions took a 44-32 lead into the locker room.

“We definitely have to come out better from the start, more focused,” Nairn said. “We have to have some energy from the jump. The first four minutes, sometimes that’s when a game is won. We’ve got to do a better job.”

Michigan State started to show some life in the second half and when Bridges blocked a dunk attempt from Julian Moore with 11:45 to play, it appeared momentum was turning for the Spartans as they trailed, 52-47.

But Michigan State failed to take advantage. Ward missed a jumper, then tried to drive the length of the floor only to come up short. Later, Langford missed a 3-pointer that would have cut the deficit to two, and the Nittany Lions regained control and got the lead back to 61-50 before the Spartans put together another push late in the game.

After Ward split a pair of free throws and Alvin Ellis hit a 3-pointer from the corner, the Penn State lead was cut to 61-55 with 3:29 left. But Michigan State went cold from the field and the turnovers continued to mount as Penn State pulled away over the final three minutes.

“Through it all we battled back,” Izzo said. “We cut it to 56-50 then had four turnovers in a row. So all-in-all, Penn State played harder than us, played better than us and deserved to win.”

Penn State (10-7, 2-2) had four players reach double-figures, led by Stevens who scored 18. Carr added 14 points while Mike Watkins and Payton Banks scored 11 each.

It was a big win for the Nittany Lions, who last beat the Spartans in 2011 at the Big Ten tournament and were coming off losing a 14-point lead on Wednesday at Michigan.

“Michigan was exactly what we needed,” Chambers said. “To be put in that position and to learn from it and then find success.”

It’s the success Michigan State hopes it rediscovers when it returns to action on Wednesday when it hosts Minnesota at Breslin Center.

“Maybe my guys will learn a lesson,” Izzo said. “There are not many times you learn a lesson through victory. You usually learn a lesson through defeat.

“We’ll regroup. I’m just disappointed that we didn’t play a better game in a place that means a lot to me.”