On Sunday, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo felt his Spartans got just what they deserved.
No, it wasn’t a trip to the Final Four, but instead, it was a trip back home to East Lansing as No. 4 seed Michigan State fell 60-54 to No. 7 seed Connecticut in the Elite Eight in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
The determined style of play that had been there throughout all of MSU’s performances thus far in the NCAA tournament, says Izzo, but there was just something off and lacking about the Spartans’ game when playing the Huskies on Sunday, and it was something that cost the green and white a trip to the next round.
“We got what we deserved today,” Izzo said. “I tried to tell these guys that, when you get to the tournament, you got to bring it every second. And today Connecticut did, and we just kind of weren’t as good as we have been.”
Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier carried the Huskies with purpose and seething determination. He scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half to quickly shut down a Spartan resurgence that had barreled them into halftime.
MSU sophomore star Gary Harris, who had a team-high 22 points, said that watching Napier play was like nothing else.
“His will to win — you could just see it,” said Harris. “He wasn’t going to let his team lose.”
One motivating factor for the Spartans that proved to not be enough of an incentive was the fact that now this senior team with Michigan State will hold the first set of four-year seniors who will not have been to a Final Four under Tom Izzo. It may seem like not that big of a deal to some, but for senior Adreian Payne, who put off the NBA last post-season and came back as a senior and who worked so hard throughout the Big Dance to get his team there, it was something that was always on his mind.
“As the game got closer and closer to ending, it was on my mind a lot, every huddle,” said Payne, who scored 13 points and nine rebounds, though was unable to make a difference in the paint.
Much of what must be frustrating Izzo today is wondering why his players, such as Payne, who are so big and physical, were unable to make plays at the basket and drive to the rim. The Spartans looked intimidated or confused at times on offense late in the game and when they weren’t sinking three-pointers, they looked almost helpless when pushing in the paint.
Perhaps more credit needs to go to UConn head coach Kevin Ollie, who felt his team was almost flawless.
“We’re physical, too,” said second-year coach Kevin Ollie, who is now 4-0 in the NCAA tournament. “Don’t get it mixed up. We are predators out there.”
In the end, a large amount of the credit likely has to go to Napier, who was just so exquisite in all aspects for the Huskies. Even MSU star Gary Harris knew where the credit was due.
“He’s a winner, and he willed his team to victory,” Harris said.
You can follow MSU writer, Michael Ferro, at twitter.com/MichaelFerro.