The opening game for the Michigan State Spartans in the NCAA Tournament was to serve as a warm-up for a march towards another Final Four appearance.
Instead, Tom Izzo’s team will leave St. Louis early and feeling blue as the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders knocked off the No. 2 seeded Spartans 90-81.
In a game that saw the Blue Raiders lead for the entire game, MSU would have 14 turnovers and see 22 personal fouls called on them.
However, the Spartans shot just over 55-percent for the game from the field but struggled from the charity stripe sinking only 12 of 20 free throws.
The Blue Raiders were better on this day with five players scoring in double figures led by Reggie Upshaw (21 points) and Giddy Potts (19 points).
Some may wonder if the Spartans felt pressure after making a run to the Final Four a year ago. Matt Costello stressed this team only had expectations.
“There wasn’t pressure like that,” said Costello. “We had expectations for ourselves, but we just failed defensively today. That’s where we’ve hung our hat all year, and we couldn’t stop them. And that started with me on the 3. So, man, just sucks.”
Costello led the Spartans while matching a career-best with a 22-point performance. But Izzo stressed pressure is only what you want to make out of it.
“There was pressure,” said Izzo. “They put it on me and I put it on them. Isn’t going to change as long as I’m here. That’s why you come here. You come here to win a few games. You do that at Northern Michigan. Come here to try to win a championship, and that’s the pressure. If that’s pressure, as hard as these guys worked, if it’s pressure to have to come into this tournament, that’s sad, because the pressure was what they did when nobody was watching. And they did it all spring, summer and fall. So I love pressure. I’m going to put it on me.”
The Spartans had been hot winning 13 of their last 14 games including the Big Ten Tournament prior to running into Middle Tennessee. On the season they’ll finish with a 29-6 mark but may be best remembered for their final game of the season instead of their season full of success.