Coach Tom Izzo took the blame for his Michigan State team getting run out of Ford Field by No. 1 North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC challenge. Fully rested and back at the Breslin Center, the Spartans look to regroup Sunday when they meet Bradley.
The 13th-ranked Spartans (4-2) had little time to prepare for the Tar Heels, having played three games in four days in Orlando, Fla., at the Old Spice Classic. Michigan State bounced back from losing to Maryland, winning its last two games to finish fifth in the eight-team tournament, but had absolutely nothing left in Tuesday’s 98-63 defeat in Detroit, shooting 20.0 percent (7-for-35) in the second half and 34.8 percent for the game.
“I think it was a lot more fatigue than it was anything else,” Izzo said. “It was four games in seven days, an NBA schedule, and I did it, so blame goes to me, not our players. I know it will sound like an excuse, but we were just dead.
“You didn’t see our real team tonight, but our real team might have lost by 20. They’re definitely one of the best teams I’ve seen in my 25 years at Michigan State.”
Having four days off after that loss gave Izzo a chance to make further adjustments to playing without starting center Goran Suton, who is expected to miss at least another two weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. Suton has been out since totaling 13 points and 12 rebounds in Michigan State’s first two games.
Raymar Morgan scored 21 in Tuesday’s loss and is averaging a team-high 17.7 points while shooting 66.7 percent. But the Spartans are still inconsistent on defense, giving up 72.7 points per game - substantially more than last season’s 62.6 average.
This will be Michigan State’s first game at the Breslin Center, where it has won 35 straight non-conference games and 22 in a row overall, since opening the season with a 100-62 victory over Idaho on Nov. 16.
Even with catching the Spartans on a downswing, Bradley (4-2) is still facing a daunting bid in posting its first victory at an active Big Ten school since Dec. 1, 1960. The Braves have won three straight games, including an 82-69 victory over East Tennessee State on Nov. 29 in which they shot a season-high 57.8 percent and hit a season-best 13 3-pointers.
Like the Spartans, Bradley coach Jim Les has to deal with injuries at center after sophomore Will Egolf - averaging 4.4 points and 1.8 rebounds - suffered a season-ending torn ACL in his right knee against ETSU.
“What Will brought was an energy and some athleticism at the five spot, getting at balls some guys weren’t able to get at and he had a good bounce to his step on both ends of the floor,” Les said. “It’s a tough road to hoe to start against Michigan State, but we’ve had a good week of practice.”
Having one less body to counter the physical Spartans concerns Les, more so after reviewing last year’s tape of Michigan State’s 66-61 victory in which the Spartans posted a 48-29 rebounding advantage.
“Their physical nature on the boards, their physical nature to get after the loose balls, the 50-50 balls, in the guts of the game … they won all those 50-50 balls and hurt us on the backboards and that was the difference in the game.”
Kalin Lucas scored seven of his final 13 points in the final 3:55 to help keep the Braves at bay last season as Michigan State improved to 3-0 all-time in the series.