The final play wasn’t developing exactly as Michigan State coach Tom Izzo expected.
“We didn’t want to call a timeout,” Izzo said, “because we thought they would go zone.”
He was right to be concerned. Michigan had thrown the zone at the Spartans several times earlier in the game. And it had worked. Every time.
There was about a dozen seconds left on the clock and Austin Thornton found himself wide open on the wing. During the timeout when this final play was being designed, Izzo had told the team to “make sure we pound it” down low.
For a quick second, Thornton thought about shooting it. He had already made two three-pointers earlier in the game. I thought he was going to take it. Most of Spartan Nation probably thought he was going to take it. But he didn’t.
I asked him what went through his mind at that point, wide open, game on the line.
“Wow, I’m really open,” he said. “But I wanna do what coach tells me to do.”
After thinking about it for a second, he continued, “I would do the same thing again. Draymond’s our star. He’s our guy… Michigan just did a good job.”
I respectfully disagree. As a senior and as a captain in the biggest game of the year, against your arch-rival at crunch time on the road, it was Thornton’s moment. And he passed the ball.
After the game, Izzo said that, given the circumstances, he wouldn’t have minded if Thornton had taken the shot, but that Austin did exactly what he was asked to do. Izzo took the blame for that one, as is appropriate for a coach to do. But Thornton should have taken the shot. Down by 1, even if he misses, there is plenty of time to foul and get the ball back. Michigan hadn’t been making all their free throws and State would have had a pretty good shot at forcing overtime, one way or another.
Oh, well. Bygones, right?
Izzo also took the blame for not getting a playing rotation down that would have kept Keith Appling fresh. Appling played great for most of the game and even got to sit a few extra minutes thanks to picking up his 4th foul (2 of them charges). But he was getting blocked. Often. And Izzo attributed it to fatigue.
Izzo also said after the game that he has two “not-very-well-conditioned centers.” One of whom, Nix, actually asked to be taken out of the game. Draymond Green didn’t want that to be used as an excuse, though.
“It’s Michigan. We need to come up with it. No matter who’s fatigued,” Green said. “No matter who’s tired. It’s Michigan.”
Did this loss hurt?
“It stings,” Green said. “But they come to East Lansing February 5th. We have a few games until then. But February 5th is definitely circled on my calendar. And me being the leader of this team, it’s definitely going to be circled on their calendars as well.”
This would have been a good win for the Spartans. But it wasn’t a bad loss. Michigan played well. They played composed. Even when their shots weren’t falling, they kept punching.
I know it’s hard to do so after a tough loss, but looking on the bright side, the Spartans showed resilience, coming back from 11 down with 12:18 to go to take a 4-point lead with 4:21 left. Believe me, this was a hostile environment to play in. Many Michigan reporters mentioned that it hasn’t been that loud in Crisler Center/Arena in a long time. Even with the swaths of empty seats in the top of the arena, I’d have to agree. It was loud.
“It was the loudest I ever heard Crisler,” Michigan power forward Zack Novak said.
MSU showed mental toughness in not letting this game get away from them. They fought back but just couldn’t hold on. And it’s true that most of the freshmen (and Wood) were overwhelmed and this was a great learning experience for them. Izzo will build off this.
As the reporters left the locker room, there was Izzo with his closest assistant coach, Draymond Green, talking in the corner in quiet whispers. I can only imagine what they were saying but I’m guessing I wouldn’t want to be Purdue coming into the Breslin Center this weekend.