On Saturday, the 15th ranked Michigan State basketball team welcomed Louisiana-Lafayette to the Breslin Center in what would be the Spartans fourth game in the last eight days.
Michigan State was once again playing very thin at the guard position with both Gary Harris and Travis Trice sitting out of another game.
In this game, the Spartans once again got off to another slow start and were trailing the Cajuns 13-20 in the early going. Louisiana freshman forward Shawn Long played a big part in this as he got off to a hot start, scoring 14 points in the first half.
However, Michigan State eventually got their feet under them and received a big boost from sophomore guard Brandan Kearney, who came off the bench and scored 8 points in the first half to help the Spartans take a 33-27 lead into the half.
“I thought we got a lot out of Brandan Kearney,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “He was one of the bright spots of the day.”
In the second half, Louisiana continued to hang around for a long time as every time Michigan State looked like they were beginning to pull away, the Spartans would turn the ball over again and allow Louisiana to catch right back up and close the lead.
The game would be played like this until the very last moment. Late in the game, Michigan State built a ten point lead, 60-50, with 3:09 to go in the game.
However, Michigan State would turn the ball over on three straight possessions, allowing Louisiana to go on a quick 6-0 run, closing the Michigan State lead to just four, 60-56, with 1:44 to go in the game.
After that, junior guard Keith Appling sunk two free throws to put Michigan State back on top by six, 62-56. But then after a foul, two free throws, another turnover and a fast break layup later, the Cajuns were only down by two, 62-60, with 56 seconds to go in the game.
After a missed lob attempt to Adreian Payne on the other end, the Cajuns rebounded the ball with 24 seconds to go. With no timeouts remaining, Louisiana brought the ball across the timeline. This was their chance to either send the game to overtime or win it with a three. At this point, the Michigan State crowd, lacking an Izzone full of students, stood up and was as loud as it was all day. The Cajuns dumped the ball into Long, who after his hot start, was held to just two points in the second half. Long, swarmed by defenders, spinned across the lane and flipped a shot up towards the rim where it rolled around and fell off and rebounded by Michigan State forward Branden Dawson.
“We actually wanted to go for three when we came up with it,” Louisiana head coach Bob Marlin said. “It happened quickly, we were out of timeouts, I would have loved to have had one in my back pocket but I thought we used them judiciously throughout the game to help keep us in the game. We were trying to come off a high ball screen with Shawn headed toward the corner, near Kevin Brown. That was the initial play that we called after the timeout but it never developed.”
Following the rebound, Dawson was fouled and sent to the other end with the Spartans still up by two with 6 seconds to got. There, he made the first, missed the second.
Long rebounded the ball and kicked it out to sophomore guard Elfrid Payton with six seconds to go. Payton, who had poured in 20 points that night, dribbled across the floor and threw up a desperation three at the buzzer. Fortunately for Michigan State, the shot missed everything and the Spartans escaped with a 63-60 victory.
The game was another disappointing performance for the Spartans as once again they turned the ball over 20 times and allowed a mediocre team to hang around for longer than they should, this time until the very last second.
“Those turnovers, give them a lot of credit they played harder than we did,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “It’s disappointing but those turnovers, fifteen of the twenty were, I mean I can’t give anybody credit for some of those.”
Despite all the turnovers, and although he himself had four of his own, Appling once again did the best he could to carry this team, playing another grueling game of 38 minutes in which he finished with 19 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.
For other players such as Russell Byrd and Denzel Valentine, it was very rough to watch them out there. Byrd is lacking a lot of confidence right now and you can see it when he’s passing up shots. He also turned the ball over four times in just 19 minutes of playing time. For Valentine, who is coming off of his best game of the season, he struggled with turnovers as well in this game, turning the ball over five times in only 20 minutes of action.
It is clear that this team is hurting a lot from the losses of Trice and Harris right now. Without a backup point guard, Appling is shouldering the load, playing nearly 40 minutes a game. And after 9500 miles of travel and four games in eight days, fatigue is starting to set in on this team.
But it doesn’t get any easier any time soon. This Wednesday, Michigan State (5-1) will fly on down to Florida to take on Miami(FL) (3-1) in the B1G/ACC challenge.
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