East Lansing — One loss in early January hardly defines a season, especially when it comes on the road against a conference opponent.
But in the wake of Sunday’s 80-64 loss at Ohio State, Michigan State’s players admitted it didn’t feel great dropping their first Big Ten game of the season and giving up in the No. 1 ranking the nation. However, it was hardly going to be something that sent the season in the wrong direction.
“At the end of the day it’s a loss and every team is gonna lose a game,” sophomore guard Cassius Winston said. “It stung but it doesn’t kill. It’s a long season and there is still a lot we can do and that’s how we’re looking at it.”
For a team with aspirations that go far beyond one regular-season win, understanding there is still plenty left to accomplish is critical. For No. 4 Michigan State (15-2, 3-1 Big Ten), that means moving past the one-sided loss to the Buckeyes and quickly dialing back in.
The Spartans will get that chance this week when it hosts Rutgers on Wednesday followed by Michigan on Saturday.
And while nobody within the program was hoping to lose, there is plenty to gain from the loss.
“There are no egos on this team and nobody went in the game thinking we don’t have to play,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said of the Ohio State game. “They don’t think they’re better than they are. Everybody needs a kick in the butt once in a while. Sometimes it comes from a coach, sometimes it comes from embarrassment, and that’s everybody.
“No question, I’m gonna work a little harder today than I did last week, and I think I work hard every day. But these next couple days I’m gonna work harder because things didn’t go right. I think they’ll look at things harder. That’s not always a negative.”
Film review on Monday revealed to the players much of what they already knew after the game — they didn’t play well in any aspect of the game. The defense had too many lapses, the ball movement disappeared on offense and too many players became frustrated by what was taking place on the court.
Add in the fact the Spartans admitted they didn’t handle the road environment well and they believe it will lead to an improvement moving forward.
“I would say we didn’t handle the crowd well,” Winston said. “They punched us in the mouth and we didn’t respond. We kind of crumbled with it. We didn’t come into the game with a lack of focus, we knew they were a good team. We just didn’t handle that run they had well.”
That run was a 12-0 surge over the final 1:14 of the first half that broke open a tie game. It gave the Buckeyes the momentum coming out of the locker room and when they extended the lead to 18 points less than a minute into the second half, the game was essentially over.
Any edge the Spartans might have had was gone. However, they believe they’ll get that edge back with most of the Big Ten season left and a team coming in Wednesday that played Michigan State tough back in December. Add in the rivalry of Saturday’s Michigan matchup and the focus will be there, they say.
“We’ve got to get that edge back,” freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. said. “We lost that No. 1 spot and we have to kind of fight for it back and play like we know how to play, with aggressiveness and a chip on our shoulder.”
It’s what they did after the loss to Duke in the second game of the season and that led to a 14-game winning streak that ended at Ohio State.
“We played with an edge after that loss,” sophomore Miles Bridges said of the response to the Duke loss. “We have to start playing with that edge again, that chip on our shoulder just like we did last year when we didn’t have a ranking.”
If that chip returns a run at the Big Ten championship remains a probability. Having the next three games at home helps, but the idea the Spartans were going to go unbeaten in conference play was likely a stretch. The last team to do that was Indiana in 1975-76.
So, that was hardly something the Spartans were pushing for. They want to win over the long haul, and despite the setback over the weekend, they believe they’re right where they need to be.
“It was a learning experience,” sophomore Nick Ward said, “and there are some things we should have done better. But at the end of the day, it’s a game we lost. We’re 5-2 which is not bad, not bad at all. We’ll get it back.”