Zone D Suffocates Spartans in Stunner

"We are not a great team yet," MSU coach Tom Izzo said after the Spartans lost to Northwestern, the team's first at home in nearly 30 games. "We're a very, very good team that has a chance to be a great team, and yet we have got to get better."

EAST LANSING — Tom Izzo said that he was not upset about his team's loss on Wednesday night, but he was upset about the way his team lost.

The Michigan State Spartans were outplayed from the outset by the Northwestern Wildcats, whom snapped the Spartans' 28-game home winning streak by winning 70-63 at the Breslin Center.

For weeks, Izzo has mentioned that the team's defense has improved, but the offense has been inconsistent. That showed on Wednesday night as the Wildcats forced 18 turnovers. They extended their 1-3-1 zone out to half court and the Spartans had trouble with it all night, especially in the second half.

"When you play Northwestern, they make you turn the ball over, that's just how they play," senior Travis Walton said. "I think it's been a lot of foolish passes and not taking care of the basketball."

Even though the Wildcats came into this game with a 1-4 record in the Big Ten, they had been playing better as of late, beating Minnesota and narrowly losing to Purdue. In the process, they have been forcing a ton of turnovers, so their improved play should come as no surprise.

"We didn't bring it from the start. You have to bring it from the start," guard Kalin Lucas said. "When you have as many turnovers as we had, you're not going to get the win."

The Wildcats scored on the first possession of the second half and nearly led for the rest of the game. NU upped their pressure in the second stanza and the Spartans broke down offensively. Izzo thought that his team did panic a little bit, an accurate description.

MSU played the Wildcats a little over two weeks ago and scored 77 points, but today the turnovers did not allow the Spartans to find a rhythm and that resulted in missed shots even when they managed to get an open look.

"There were good shots, we just have to be able to knock them down," Durrell Summers (11 points) said.

The Wildcats, who scored 27 points off of turnovers, had extremely active hands. Even when they were a little out of position, they still were able to shut off passing lanes, which forced the Green & White to attempt difficult passes.

"They were corralling to the ball," Lucas said. "When you did try to pass the ball they did have hands (up). They were getting a lot of deflections."

The nation's No. 7 ranked team was forced to pass the ball along the perimeter, therefore negating most of their interior offense. Coach Izzo attributes this problem to the team's defense.

"Because we couldn't guard (Kevin) Coble we had to put Travis in which means we had to go very small which really hurt our post up game," Izzo said.

Well, that can be attributed to the fact that Raymar Morgan is still under the weather, and was not himself. He would have had the responsibility of defending Coble, but he just didn't have the ability to do so tonight.

Coble finished the game with 31 points on 10-16 shooting, connecting on tough shot after tough shot.

"Certain guys can take bad shots, and what I mean is they are bad shots for me and you, but for him he can make those," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said.

Spartan guard Travis Walton was visibly disappointed by Coble's performance.

"Today, our defense didn't hold us up," Walton said. "Nobody took it personal that Coble had 19 at halftime."

Izzo noted that Delvon Roe didn't play much because of the trouble had defending Northwestern's endless backdoor cuts.

Lucas led the Spartans with 20 points, but he committed six turnovers and played 37 minutes. Izzo was upset that he had to play Lucas that many minutes and thinks that it may have affected his play.

Lucas explained that he felt great late in the game, but the problem with his team does not stem from this game alone, or any game for that matter. He echoed Coach Izzo's sentiment in terms of being critical of the way this teamed has practiced.

"We haven't been practicing (well). We'll practice hard two days, and then we'll take a day off," Lucas said. "We do deserve this loss."

The Spartans are off to Columbus to face the Buckeyes this Saturday at 3:45 p.m. EST. Hopefully, MSU will come out prepared and ready for the zone that Ohio State will throw at them.

As many have said before, this is a much-improved Big Ten, and the journey to a conference title will not be easy. The Spartans are still 15-3 and atop the conference standings at 5-1, but this team still has work to do.

"We are not a great team yet," Izzo explained. "We're a very, very good team that has a chance to be a great team, and yet we have got to get better. There are some things that we're not doing well and we got to get healthy."


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