MSU coach and players after 75-64 loss to Michigan in Big Ten semifinal game at Madison Square Garden, which ended Spartans 13-game winning streak.
New York — There were plenty of heads hanging in the Michigan State locker room on Saturday.
The blank stares and frustrated sighs were the norm as the Spartans – the top seed in the Big Ten tournament – came to grips with the fact they’d just been eliminated in the semifinals, by their biggest rival, no less.
Michigan was the better team Saturday at Madison Square Garden, much like it was back in January when the Wolverines beat the Spartans. This time, Michigan earned a 75-64 victory to advance to the tournament championship game on Sunday against Purdue.
For Michigan State, the focus now shifts to what’s next. And for a team that sits high in the rankings — the Spartans were ranked No. 2 in the nation this week — where it might end up being seeded in the NCAA Tournament is anyone’s guess.
However, what Selection Sunday reveals in a little more than a week from now was hardly what the Spartans were thinking about on Saturday. Instead, finding a way to move past just their fourth loss of the season was the priority.
“Yeah, you know, it was a big game, but it's not the end of our season,” sophomore Cassius Winston said. “There's still another big goal that we're very capable of achieving. So, we just gotta use this to fuel our fire. I think everybody didn't play their best game today. And we just gotta get back to the shop and become that team we can become.”
The margin for error is gone now. No, losing in the Big Ten tournament doesn’t end Michigan State’s season, but the next loss will.
There will be plenty of consternation over where the Spartans land. They seemed destined for at least a No. 2 seed and a trip to Little Caesars Arena in Detroit for the first weekend. However, both of those notions are in limbo now.
So, instead of wonder when and where the next game will be, the Spartans know they have work to do on the court.
“It hurts, but we want this feeling to sink in so you don’t forget about it,” junior Matt McQuaid said. “We’ve got to realize we’ve still got a lot of basketball to play, so we’ve got to get better in this gap.”
Joshua Langford, Jaren Jackson, Matt McQuaid, Cassius Winston, Miles Bridges after loss to Michigan. Matt Charboneau
That gap is something new this year. The Big Ten tournament was played a week earlier than normal to take advantage of the chance to play at Madison Square Garden.
The players all said they loved the opportunity to play in the “mecca” of basketball, but now there’s a layoff that will present some challenges. The Spartans say they’ll make the most of it, and coach Tom Izzo said the fact the student body is on spring break will be a good thing.
“It will be one time in my life the NCAA has no rules on us,” Izzo said. “We're on break and we don't have any games. That doesn't happen very often. In fact, it's never happened to me. So, knowing me, I'm going to take advantage of that.”
There’s no doubt the Spartans would rather be playing on Sunday with a shot to validate their regular-season Big Ten title with one in the tournament. However, the national championship has been the goal from day one, and despite not playing their best over the last handful of games, they still believe they have the team to achieve that goal.
The next week will play a vital role.
“It’s gonna be good for us,” sophomore Joshua Langford said. “We’ll put our head down and work and get better because we do have a hell of a team and have a great chance of winning a national championship. So, we have to learn from this, understand what this feels like because this is what it’s gonna be like in the tournament.”