CHICAGO (AP)Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has been complaining about his team’s defense for about three weeks.
“So I guess my experience kind of gave the answer,” Izzo said.
A painful one, too.
Michigan State dropped its Big Ten Tournament opener on Friday, losing 68-58 to a 13th-seeded Ohio State team playing for the third straight day. The Spartans are 7-8 in their last 15 games, but they have enough quality wins that they are expected to receive an at-large bid when the NCAA Tournament bracket is revealed on Sunday.
“Today we didn’t come ready to play, but we’ve got a second chance in the tournament to turn things around,” Michigan State guard Jaden Akins said. “We just know we’ve got to put our all into that and make this run.”
Under Izzo, the Spartans (19-12) have a long history of postseason success built on defense and rebounding. But Michigan State’s opponents are averaging 70 points and 44% shooting since Jan. 13, a slight increase from the season average of 67.4 points and 42% shooting.
The Buckeyes shot 44.6% (25 for 56) from the field, including 10 for 19 from 3-point range. They shot 48% from the field during an 84-78 loss at Michigan State in the regular-season finale last weekend.
Ohio State also held its own on the glass on Friday, losing 35-33 in the rebounding battle.
“They were in a rhythm. We didn’t do a good job defending the 3-point line,” forward Joey Hauser said. “But they had two games under their belt here already, and we knew that was going to be the case coming into the game, but we didn’t do a good job defending the 3-point line.”
Akins said the Spartans surrendered too many driving lanes.
“We were getting put in tough situations because they were confident from 3 today,” he said. “So you kind of didn’t know if you wanted to help or try to stop the ball when they were driving.”
Michigan State had trouble staying in a front of a short-handed Ohio State team playing without Brice Sensabaugh, who was sidelined by knee soreness. The freshman scored 21 points in the previous matchup between the schools.
Asked about his concern about Michigan State’s defense going into the NCAA tourney, Izzo sounded an optimistic note. He said the Spartans just have to get back to the defense they were playing earlier in the season.
“That’s the beauty of it. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel, as I said,” he said. “We’ve been there, done that. We played really good defense.”
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