"Raymar got in foul trouble," said Spartans head coach Tom Izzo. "He never really played, he never got into the game. We couldn't afford for that to happen."
Although green and white certainly dominated the crowd of 4464, the sixth-ranked Spartans did anything but dominate on the court. The two teams went back and forth early on in a game that much more resembled that of a heavyweight title bout than the first-round of an early season tournament.
Both offenses struggled early on as the teams combined for just 14 points in the first five minutes, while throwing the ball around in what could only be construed as sloppy play. The teams accounted for eight of their combined 18 first half turnovers (10 by MSU) in the early minutes.
The execution then improved and both teams began to look like legitimate national powers on the offensive end. With the Terps up 19-16 almost midway through the first half, Spartans leading scorer Raymar Morgan picked up his second foul and Maryland immediately went on an 8-2 run to take a 27-18 lead.
Morgan was re-inserted in the game with 7:46 to play, then subsequently picked up his third foul within seconds to send him to the bench for the rest of the half. Morgan, Michigan State's leading scorer was held to just two points at the half.
"He's got to realize that if it's a bad call, if it's not a bad call, if it's a situation that he just trips and ran into somebody, whatever it is, he's got to play smarter," Izzo said of his star forward.
"I think some of those problems happen if you're not mentally there, and I thought there were some things early on that he just put us in a position by not being as aggressive as he needed to be defensively before guys got the ball, and that puts us in a bad position, it puts Travis (Walton) in a bad position. So Raymar has got to learn how to adjust to that.
The Spartans went on a 6-0 run in the last three minutes to go to halftime down just 37-34. Senior guard Travis Walton led the Spartans with 10 points at the break, and sophomore guard Durrell Summers added eight points off the bench. Maryland sophomore guard Adrian Bowie led all scorers with 11 points, shooting 4-4 from the field (3-3 from behind the three-point line).
Michigan State shot just 44.4% from the field (12-27), 50% from the free throw line (9-18), and just 20% from behind the arc (1-5). Maryland hit on 44.8% of their field goals (13-29), 66.7% from the free throw line (6-9), and 50% of their three-point attempts (5-10).
The Spartans came out firing in the second half as they connected on their first three attempts to go on a 6-0 run and take their first lead since the early moments of the game. The Terps were able to weather the storm and answer with a 18-5 run of their own to take a 55-45 advantage almost midway through the second half as junior guards Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez combined for 10 points during the run.
The Terps would begin to pull away as Michigan State's defense seemed to fall apart. Maryland junior Greivis Vasquez hit a pair of threes and the Spartans offense couldn't answer as they missed a host of shots close to the basket and at the free throw line.
Michigan State shot a disappointing 44.4% from the line while Maryland hit on 17 of their 21 free throw attempts (81%). The Spartans shot just 42.1% from the field (24-57) for the game while they allowed the Terps to shoot nearly 50% (27-55).
"The free throw shooting which I don't think in my career I've seen anything like that," Izzo said. "Just missed one after another, we tried to put some free throw shooters in, Kalin is one of the better free throw shooters in the conference and he didn't shoot very well tonight (0-3 from the line)."
Sophomore guard Kalin Lucas entered Thursday's action averaging 15.0 points per game, second on the team, but finished with just six points on 3-11 shooting.
"I thought he struggled a little bit, but you have to understand too that if you're a quarterback running a team, if you have different parts in that team that normally don't play together," Izzo said, as he explained the struggles of his young guard.
"I thought he got to the point we're he wasn't sure what the guys were going to do on the wings, and he passed up shots a couple times and you're not sure who's there and there's just not a comfort level like a receiver and a quarterback. I'm not sure that he just didn't play that well or he just wasn't that comfortable because of the situation."
Senior guard Travis Walton led the Spartans with 16 points and five boards, while Draymond Green led the team with six rebounds. Junior guard Greivis Vasquez, a returning second team all-ACC performer, tied for the Maryland team lead with 17 points, as did senior forward Dave Neal.
"I sure don't want to take anything away from Gary Williams, his Maryland team played well and played hard," Izzo said as he was gracious in defeat.
"Their guards played really well, Vasquez played really well. Unfortunately for us, we came out with three mistakes right out of the row, and the only guy that really played well for us was Trav (Walton) and he played awfully well."