MSU’s Alvin Ellis III, Bryn Forbes, Gavin Schilling, Matt Costello and Denzel Valentine leave the court in dejection after losing to Duke 81-61 in the Final Four in Indianapolis Friday 4/3/2015.
INDIANAPOLIS – The last one was the hardest one to get in on, as you might expect – they were four-deep all around Tom Izzo in the Lucas Oil Stadium concourse, trying to get some last words from him on a season that exceeded all reasonable expectations before ending with a lot of ugly.
And it was difficult for Izzo to get past the ending, as you might also expect.
“That wasn’t the Michigan State team,” he said of the 81-61 Final Four loss to Duke.
“I was embarrassed for the people sitting behind us,” he said of the star-studded, all-green section behind the MSU bench.
“We did not play good,” he continued. “I’m gonna give (the Blue Devils) a lot of credit. But I’m not gonna give it all to them.”
And one more: “Everybody wants me to be glowing about everything. It’s hard to do that. If it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t mean enough.”
But there was good news for Izzo in that regard. He loved seeing how his players, Denzel Valentine and Tum Tum Nairn in particular, were so visibly devastated by the loss.
He talked about how they’ll be his “Batman and Robin” next season, and how he believes the chemistry that aided this team can be replicated even with Travis Trice and Branden Dawson departing.
“I think it can,” Izzo said. “The reason I think it can is that we’ve had some young guys that have learned.”
And yeah, Izzo said, this “ride was incredible” and “we became a fantastic team these last 15 games.”
It’s just that MSU was anything but on Saturday. You can look at this game and say Duke was simply too talented. But if you’ve been watching the Spartans lately, you realize how out of character they were.
Maybe Duke’s talent and defensive pressure deserve most of the credit for MSU getting out of character. You can make that argument. It’s just that MSU faced serious adversity at other times in this tournament and responded with cool execution and grit.
On this night, it responded with turnovers and out-of-rhythm bombs early in the shot clock – both leading to run-outs for the Blue Devils, which nullified the fact that MSU actually carried out the defensive game plan in the halfcourt.
Two threes for Duke? Jahlil Okafor single-covered and scores 18? Anyone playing this Duke team would take that all day. But when the Blue Devils get breakaway dunks and 37 free throws, it doesn’t matter.
And that brings us to the officiating and the foul disparity, which some MSU fans are making a bigger deal of than they should. Duke attacked. MSU shot jumpers. I don’t enjoy watching touch fouls called every 8 seconds either, but you have to react to it on both ends.
Yes, the second-half possession that resulted in two Dawson fouls was ugly – both of those calls were questionable, knocked Dawson from the game with four fouls and killed a chance for MSU to have the ball down 13. But it’s a stretch to say MSU had a legit chance at that point to get all the way back into the game.
So Izzo told his players he was proud of them. But he’ll probably take a couple days to fully appreciate this one.
Before his session with reporters ended, Izzo told the story of MSU’s infamous 1986 loss to Kansas in the Sweet 16 – the “clock game” – and how wrecked Jud Heathcote was after it. Izzo wondered why. And Jud told him: “You get certain opportunities to go so far. And you may never get back.”