They'll remember the 13 point lead they had in the first half. They'll remember a UM team that was on the ropes and ready to quit. They'll remember the questionable officiating that sent a parade of UM players to the free throw line an astonishing 34 times compared to MSU's 10. But more than anything, they'll ask themselves, why did we panic?
If MSU learns only one lesson from this game, it has to be to trust their sophomore point guard who is ready, willing and able to lead this club in crucial situations.
With Michigan self destructing down the stretch and the lead cut to two, a panicky State squad failed to execute down the stretch. Rather than putting the ball into the hands of playmaker Drew Neitzel, who scored 15 points, hit 3-of-6 clutch three-point shots and set up six scores for his teammates, MSU's Maurice Ager rushed the ball upcourt penetrated for what appeared to be an easy lay-up. Instead of finishing the shot, however,he dished off to Paul Davis who was too far under the basket and had his shot blocked into the rim.
Nietzel grabbed the rebound and called out a play designed to get a shot for Ager, but panic-striken Paul Davis instead launched a wild three-point attempt that carromed off the backboard and UM Graham Brown grbbed the rebound with :14 left but Michigan turned the ball over and MSU had new life.
After consecutive time outs, Izzo's out of bounds play got the ball back to Ager who, failed to use a Davis screen, instead launching a three that bounced off the rim. UM's Dion Harris rebounded and was fouled.
His two free throws sealed the Spartans demise.
There are always turning points in a college basketball season. MSU expected to win this game and should have won this game, but they didn't. Some serious soul-searching is in order for this club in the aftermath of their third consecutive road loss.
Seniors Davis and Ager need to learn to play calmly and under control when games are on the line. Having played so many big games in their four-year careers, it is surprising that both panic in critical moments of this one.
For Shannon Brown (5-of-10, three assists, three rebounds), he'll have to ask himself if he could have made a difference by coming more to the forefront and making himself a viable option down the stretch. Brown seems to defer to the seniors, but with the NBA clearly in his future and his boundless talent, no is now time to be a shrinking violet. Brown should have stepped up down the stretch.
For sophomore Drew Neitzel, he walks the finest line of all. He has to get his teammates to trust him to make the right decisions and run the ball through him at every critical juncture. He also needs to get a little bit more selfish. In clutch situations, he needs to keep the ball in his hands until he sees the shot and be a calming influence on his teammates.
For coach Izzo, he has to get a handle of the officials. He simply cannot allow such a discrepency. A well-placed technical foul earning tirade might have been enough to stop the parade of Michigan players to the free throw line. Izzo said the discrepency didn't cost MSU the game. Michigan made 27-of-34 free throws to MSU 6-of-10, a 21-point differential and won the game by five.
You tell me that didn't win them the game?
He also needs to find a way to squeeze something out of his bench players who combined for just seven points compared to 17 for the Wolverine pine dwellers.
MSU should circle yesterday's date on the calendar and do some serious soul-searching. They should frame the box score and the accompanying story and vow to never let it happen again.