Chicago — As Tom Izzo built Michigan State into a national power in college basketball, there was one aspect of the game he has consistently made sure the Spartans have excelled at — rebounding.
In most seasons, Michigan State is among the leaders in not only the Big Ten but in the entire nation.
Even against bigger teams, the Spartans typically have the toughness to get it done on the glass.
So, it’s easy to understand Izzo’s frustration following No. 1 Duke’s 88-81 victory over No. 2 Michigan State Tuesday in the Champions Classic at the United Center. It was a battle worthy of the top two teams in the country, but it was that one state — rebounding — that had Izzo especially irked after the Blue Devils outrebounded the Spartans, 46-34, including a 25-11 advantage on the offensive glass.
“I’m embarrassed, to be honest with you, that a team would get 25 offensive rebounds against us,” Izzo said. “I don’t care how big they are.
“We had two keys to start the game. We said (we can’t have) turnovers, foolish ones. We knew we were gonna get some. That zone is pretty good and it’s long. And then rebounding. Never in a million years did I think we’d get outrebounded like that.”
The offensive rebound advantage for Duke was 15-2 at halftime and by the end of the game, the Blue Devils had scored 17 second-chance points.
“We hold them to 39 percent (shooting), 30 percent in the first half and 27 percent from three and the only way they scored was on the missed shot for a while,” Izzo said. “So, I’m more disappointed but there are probably some positive things we’ll figure out but it won’t be tonight. Give them credit, but I give us some blame and we have to live with that.”
Freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. led Michigan State with seven rebounds while Miles Bridges and Nick Ward had five each. But Duke’s Wendell Carter Jr. had 12 while Javin DeLaurier grabbed seven.
“We didn’t cut out,” Jackson said. “I didn’t box out in any sense. So, when I don’t box out or when Nick doesn’t box out or when Gavin (Schilling) or our bigs don’t box out and we don’t corral it and don’t get the rebound, it goes right into their hands. So, it was on us.”
Zone of contention
Michigan State had trouble all game handling Duke’s 2-3 zone defense, and even some stretches of good shooting and easy buckets on penetration didn’t get the Blue Devils to back out of it.
“We haven’t faced zone much, give them credit,” Izzo said. “They played it the whole game. I thought if we could get ahead and get them out of it the advantage goes to us. We couldn’t get a big enough lead to get them out of it. We had to play Jaren in the middle, which he can do but that’s a lot to ask of a freshman right now.”
Point guard Cassius Winston said it was hard to simulate the Blue Devils’ length, making it that much tougher to adjust.
“They are so long with so many athletes, you can’t really put that together,” Winston said. “Once we got out there we got a feel for it a bit. We got some nice looks, some nice shots. We just got to knock them down.”
The Duke-Michigan State game was followed by No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 5 Kentucky. It was the seventh playing of the Champions Classic, an event that will be played in Indianapolis next year and in New York in 2019. That will end the latest three-year contract, but all four schools have indicated they’d like to continue playing.
The atmosphere on Tuesday was electric, as has become the norm for the Classic.
“That place was rocking in there,” Izzo said. “Do I think it’s good for college basketball? This event has been as good as any event I’ve ever been in. I hate to say it but it matches the Final Four and then some. Very seldom do you get the number of ranked teams that have been in this. Even in the Final Four, you don’t get teams ranked 1, 2, 3, 4 or 1, 2, 4, 5. It’s been that way year-in and year-out.”