Add Michigan State to the list of Big Ten teams upset this season.
The Spartans joined the likes of Michigan and Nebraska on Saturday in what might have been the most unlikely – and the worst – of the group as the Texas Southern Tigers downed the Spartans 71-64 in overtime.
And it came after Michigan State avoided upsets against in-state schools Oakland and Eastern Michigan in the past week.
“We didn’t take this game seriously enough,” junior center Matt Costello said. “We knew Oakland and Eastern were going to be tough games and we put a lot into them and we relaxed and you can’t relax at this time of the year, that’s when mid-majors come in and shock people and they did their job.”
Coach Tom Izzo put the loss solely on his shoulders for easing up on his players leading up to Saturday’s game and having shorter practices, which resulted in one of the most shocking losses of his career.
"This one should have an asterisk next to it, to say that (the head coach) solely did not do his job,” Izzo said. “So for all the guys that told me to never, ever, in the history of the world admit that it's the coach's fault, hear me out: That was a coaching loss and I take full responsibility for it and I plan on rectifying it starting at 8:30 tomorrow morning."
The Spartans coach repeatedly blamed himself for the loss, saying headlines should read “Izzo’s Fault.” One thing was clear, though, and that is practice Sunday before the Spartans’ game against The Citadel on Monday night will be an eventful one.
“I would rather have a quick turnaround because tomorrow is going to be hell,” Costello said. “It is seriously going to suck. No going to church tomorrow – that’s not happening.”
Costello said Izzo said after the game that he will not make the mistake of easing up again and feeling bad for his players – adding “(I) hope he doesn’t.”
“I’m gonna find out with the NCAA will legally allow me to practice tomorrow and probably exceed it, that’s what I’m gonna try to do,” Izzo said. “I’m not gonna emphasize anything but we’re gonna play harder, we’re gonna play smarter and we’re gonna come ready to play.”
That is something the Spartans did not seem to do against the Tigers, which they acknowledged after and was noted by opposing coach Mike Davis.
”I thought Michigan State just came out and kind of played,” Davis said. “Not with the energy and effort they normally play.”
Michigan State came out early and got out to an early 17-9 lead, at which point it appeared all was normal, even with senior forward Branden Dawson on the bench.
But Texas Southern stuck around and Michigan State never found a way to put the game away.
The Spartans, who entered the game leading the nation in 3-point shooting, went just 4 of 21 from deep as Trice and junior Bryn Forbes combined for just 12 points on 4 of 22 shooting.
The Tigers went on a 7-0 run early in the second half to tie the game 34-34, but the Spartans opened it up and led 50-42 after a Denzel Valentine 3-pointer off a great pass from freshman Javon Bess with 8:00 to play.
”That’s when I thought we were going to pull away,” senior guard Travis Trice said. “I thought we were going to go on a run but we just didn’t.”
Instead, Texas Southern whittled away as Michigan State scored on just one of its next nine possessions, including four turnovers. It all led to a 3-pointer by Texas Southern’s Jason Carter with 1:26 left to take the lead 53-52 – the first time MSU trailed and Carter’s first 3 in eight attempts on the year.
A pair of Valentine free throws gave MSU the lead back, but Carter again came up clutch with a basket with 24 seconds left to retake the lead.
Bess had the chance to give Michigan State the lead with 6.8 seconds left, but missed the first free throw before swishing the second to send the game to overtime.
The Tigers outscored Michigan State 16-9 in the extra frame, as Malcolm Riley got the first bucket on a baseline jumper and David Blanks hit a floater to put Texas Southern up 59-55. The final 12 points came via free throws, as the Spartans struggled to get anything going in overtime as the Tigers played freely, while Michigan State was off.
“I don’t think there was a tightness,” Costello said. “There was more of a disbelief. ‘Is this really happening right now? Like for real?’”
It was all too real afterward, as Izzo bemoaned his decision to have shorter practices to give rest to his players.
”I kind of pulled back because I just kind of figured that you cant use all your bullets up, you can’t use all your arrows up and sometimes rely on fighting through and winning a game the hard way and we didn’t do that,” Izzo said.
But putting all the blame on Izzo – as he insisted should be done – was not going to sit well with Valentine, who pointed to the players on the court.
"Coach says he takes the blame for it, but at the end of the day he's not playing. – We are,” he said. “If we had more pride, we would have went out there and played, but we just, we let coach down. I don't think it was his fault.
”There's no way we should have lost to that team."