Chris Solari Detroit Free Press
Published 4:00 PM EST Nov 10, 2018
EAST LANSING — Rarely does a first game of the season give as much insight as Michigan State discovered Tuesday.
For a half, the 10th-ranked Spartans looked light years off from No. 1 Kansas, missing shots, committing turnovers and losing out on loose balls one after another. They fell behind by double-digits.
Everything changed at halftime.
MSU got within three points with about 30 seconds to play but could not get closer, with Kansas holding on for a 92-87 win in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis.
“There was something to take from the game,” Izzo said. “I just wish it was 1997 or 98, and then you’d feel good about coming back like that. I feel more bad about how we played at the beginning. I didn’t really enjoy the comeback.”
That isn’t to say there wasn’t plenty of things to glean from it.
“I’m a guy that always looks at life as the glass is half-full, not half-empty,” said junior Joshua Langford, one of the comeback catalysts. “I don’t see losses, I just see lessons. And I believe if you learn from your loss, then it’s really not a loss, it’s a gain, because you are gaining something.
“Coach might cuss me out for saying that, but I believe we did get some good stuff from that game.”
The Spartans will get their first chance Sunday night to make some fixes, with Florida Gulf Coast visiting Breslin Center (6 p.m./Big Ten Network). Here is a glance at what went right and what went awry for MSU against the Jayhawks.
What to like
Resiliency: MSU kept trimming a 14-point halftime deficit throughout the first 10 minutes of the second half, but the Jayhawks would exert their might to rebuild it. But the Spartans kept scrapping, kept making runs, kept hitting shots. And most importantly, instead of trying to win a national title in the first half of the first game, they began to value each possession more and more. MSU committed its 18 turnovers in the first 36 minutes and had none in the final 4 minutes as they put together a 10-2 run to close the game.
Tempo: Cassius Winston played more than 33 minutes, and the junior point guard pushed the pace on offense while distributing 11 assists. MSU posted 26 points on the fastbreak, with the wing tandem of Langford and Matt McQuaid running the outside lanes and both Nick Ward and Xavier Tillman darting down the middle of the court hard at the forward spot.
Shooting: Outside of a midgame lull, in which the Spartans went into a 4-of-15 drought, MSU shot the ball fairly well from the floor and outside against the long Kansas defenders. The Spartans shot 44.1 percent for the game and made 12 of 23 3-pointers.
What to work on
Inconsistent energy: It was like the veterans came out of the locker room trying to win a national championship in the first half, which resulted in players overdoing their norm and playing out of control and frazzled. MSU kept things close in the first 8-plus minutes of the opening half until Kansas made a 12-1 run. That zapped the Spartans, who made just 4 of their last 11 shots in the half and fell behind by 17 until Kyle Ahrens’ 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer and were getting outrebounded by 10.
Turnovers and free-throw shooting: Izzo detested the 18 giveaways, saying, “The turnovers we had were of a disgusting level.” Those 20 points off turnovers “a killer right there, because most of those points were layups.” Winston and Ward each had five, but with different issues: the point guard got a little too casual with the ball out front and gave up some easy “turnovers for touchdowns,” as Izzo calls them. Ward, meanwhile, continued to struggle with assessing double-teams and had issues trying to dribble between defenders or kick out passes to the perimeter.
Post/perimeter defense: Ward also had some issues defending Udoka Azubuike at times, letting the Kansas 7-footer get some easy layups and dunks by not forcing him out of the paint. That and Ward’s offensive woes led to a 40-24 edge in paint scoring for the Jayhawks. Izzo, though, said Ward is the least of his concerns as the Spartans likely won’t face another combination of depth and size of big men like Kansas has. Freshman Quentin Grimes got free for six 3-pointers for the Jayhawks, many of them open looks that Izzo deemed “a lack of effort” from MSU’s guards. Kansas was 10 of 23 from behind the arc.
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