Couch: 3 quick takes on Michigan State's 77-61 loss at Purdue
1. This was a classic Mackey Arena game, but MSU could have made it more interesting than it did
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – I’m not sure this Michigan State team would beat this Purdue team at Mackey Arena if they played 10 times on a Sunday afternoon.
It certainly wasn’t going to happen on this particular Sunday afternoon, which turned into a 77-61 loss for the Spartans. As difficult to beat as Purdue is, as hard as it is to win at Mackey, as subpar as MSU’s options are against Zach Edey — this was also one of those classic, frenzied, feel-good home wins for the Boilermakers. One of those games where David flippin’ Jenkins, a 28% 3-point shooter, has the courage to take four of them, three of them going in, two of them hitting the rim, the backboard and rim again before falling through the net.
But MSU (14-8 overall, 6-5 Big Ten) could have made this game more interesting than it did. And the Spartans have to learn from that. I’m only partly talking about their defense against Edey, who poured in a career-high 38 points on 15-for-24 shooting, while also grabbing 13 rebounds.
The Spartans' approach on Purdue’s mammoth big fella didn’t work, not when they played him straight up or left shooters to double down. And I don’t know what approach for this MSU team will.
"You just try to make him work," MSU center Mady Sissoko said in the locker room, mostly upset that he gave up several offensive rebounds to Eddey. "I mean, what can you do?"
They’ll have to try something or someone else if they meet again in the Big Ten tournament or beyond. Perhaps true small ball. If you're going to give up 38 points and 13 rebounds to Edey, might as well make him chase Joey Hauser or Malik Hall around on the other end. The best news for the Spartans is they might be done with Edey forever. He's such a unique player that the problems he causes aren't indicative of problems you have. Still, even with those problems, the Spartans could have made the No. 1-ranked Boilermakers (21-1, 10-1 Big Ten) uncomfortable down the stretch, even with Edey’s big day.
They needed to play better situational basketball, execute in a few key moments, avoid the bad technical foul (though it would help if the official avoided the bad offensive foul call on the screen, too.).
That bad whistle on a Malik Hall screen, followed by a Purdue 3 at the first-half buzzer, followed by a Tom Izzo technical foul, might have been as much as a seven-point swing, the difference between MSU being down as little as 13 going into halftime and, instead, being down 20 after two Fletcher Loyer technical free throws to begin the second half. You can’t have that sequence.
You can’t have the bad turnovers (one brutal turnover for a bucket the other way) just as you’re beginning to make things interesting or, down 10 and on the break, miss a shooter’s shooting pocket on the pass, which led to an air-ball. That would have made it a seven-point game and made things awful tense in the arena. You can’t have two missed free throws when you’re making a mini-run.
This game broke the way a lot of MSU’s recent games at Mackey have. The Spartans, though, are seasoned enough, with enough quality to expect them to be able to better counter the atmosphere, lucky shots and bad breaks.
“You just got to expect those things in an environment like this when people are at home,” MSU’s A.J. Hoggard said, after a 20-point, six-assist game where he carried the Spartans in the second half but didn’t take care of them in some key moments. “Everyone plays good at home. That's just basketball. So we kind of got to channel those things better. And just sustain runs and things like that. When we cut (the lead) and we're making a run, we have to be on our Ps and Qs and do everything at an elite level.”
MORE: Couch: MSU's loss at Purdue fed the notion that this team isn't good enough to do anything special. Recent history says otherwise.
2. That ends any faint Big Ten titles hopes for MSU
Purdue looked like it might run away with the Big Ten championship well before Sunday’s game. But it’s a formality now, barring a bad injury. The Boilermakers are three-plus games up on the top of the rest of the field (four game in the win column, after Rutgers loss at Iowa on Sunday) and they’re just enough better than everyone else that they’re going to keep inching further ahead as the rest of the league cannibalizes itself. Add in the Mackey Arena factor and Purdue should be five games clear of everyone else by the end of the regular season.
Had MSU found a way to win Sunday, it would have brought the Spartans to 7-4 in the Big Ten and Purdue back to 9-2, having split against MSU and lost its only scheduled meeting with Rutgers, at Mackey no less (Purdue’s only loss of the season). Things would have seemed more possible for Rutgers (6-3 entering Sunday), MSU and perhaps some other team, if someone were to get hot.
The Spartans are now headed into a purgatory of sorts, where they’re going to be safely in the NCAA tournament field soon enough, I think, but at 6-5 and four games back, not at all in the Big Ten race.
The focus for MSU becomes securing that postseason bid, trying to bolster its resume for a decent NCAA tournament seed — a 5 or 6 six seed is still reasonably within reach — and, most importantly, improving. This is a roster that, if whole, has a chance to make some noise. It’s got a number of capable seasoned players, even if not one who truly creates problems for opponents every night. Remember, most of the country isn’t Purdue. Most of college basketball doesn’t have Zach Edey. The Spartans are going to lose to the center matchup sometimes. But not like this.
3. Freshman thoughts – the Purdue at Mackey Arena edition
The Spartans didn’t come close to having an answer for Purdue’s Zach Edey on Saturday. But their best possessions defensively were with freshman Carson Cooper on the floor defending him. Cooper did a good job using his length to make Edey work. Edey missed at least once over Cooper and made another tough, off-balanced shot, made difficult by Cooper.
Fellow freshman Jaxon Kohler got Edey to miss badly once, too, and, in the second half, did a nice job of taking away Edey’s preferred left shoulder. Both freshmen battled. Both better than Mady Sissoko, who struggled to keep any sort of position against Edey. The game seemed to snowball on Sissoko, which is why Cooper and Kohler more often became the choice as it went along, splitting the minutes Sissoko wasn’t the sacrificial lamb. Neither freshman scored before the final minute, when Edey was out of the game. Kohler had two rebounds and assists. Cooper had one board and late bucket. It won’t get any worse than facing Edey in their entire college careers.
Tre Holloman appears to have fallen out of favor a bit. Partly, I don’t think he’s been as solid lately. Malik Hall’s return has a trickle-down effect on minutes. And MSU’s been in games lately when it needs its other three guards on the court. But I am curious to see if his role continues to lessen. Holloman played just three minutes before garbage time, all in the first half Sunday. Purdue was 10 points better than the Spartans during those three minutes.
Contact Graham Couch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Michigan State basketball falls hard at Purdue: 3 quick takes