How did Michigan State basketball crumble against Purdue? Start in the paint

Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press
·8 min read

EAST LANSING — Answers and explanations did not come easy for Tom Izzo.

Michigan State led Purdue almost the entire game Friday — including 19 minutes, 55.5 seconds of the second half — by dominating defensively, shooting above a 50% clip, containing Trevion Williams early and building a 17-point lead less than a minute after halftime.

Then came Izzo’s inexplicableness.

For the final 18:46, Williams went to work inside in seemingly unstoppable fashion. For more than 12 minutes, the Spartans missed shot after shot — nine of them, from all three scoring levels.

And for the final 19.1 seconds, after MSU inched back ahead by four points and appeared about to salvage a win, everything fell apart.

A foul. A turnover. Another foul. A loose ball tie-up that stayed with Purdue.

Michigan State Spartans forward Joey Hauser defends Purdue Boilermakers forward Trevion Williams during the second half at Breslin Center in East Lansing, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021.
Michigan State Spartans forward Joey Hauser defends Purdue Boilermakers forward Trevion Williams during the second half at Breslin Center in East Lansing, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021.

The Boilermakers turned three possessions in 7.4 seconds into the game’s final five points, capped by Williams’ hook shot off an inbounds pass with 4.5 ticks remaining, to stun the Spartans 55-54 at Breslin Center.

Trying to figure out the how and why in the immediate aftermath forced Izzo to reassemble the play-by-play of 10 second-half turnovers, missed free throws and rebound opportunities and perceived questionable calls by the referees. He paused briefly, finishing his assessment with a couple shakes of his head and shoulder shrugs, murmuring “I don’t know” twice.

“The basketball Gods weren't with us …,” he added. “But I'll tell you this: the game should've never come down to that.”

A big game by Williams should bring sound an alarm as MSU (8-4, 2-4 Big Ten) travels to No. 7 Iowa on Thursday (9 p.m./FS1). An even tougher test awaits the Spartans' post players in Luka Garza, who is second in the country at 27.2 points a game.

Izzo along with his captains Joshua Langford and Aaron Henry all said they needed to watch the film to get a better understanding of what caused the collapse. However, the best place to start will be in the paint, where Izzo used a small lineup with small forwards Joey Hauser and Malik Hall in the final 8:10 without substitution to try and stop the 6-10, 265-pound Williams.

A junior forward from Detroit Henry Ford Academy via Chicago, Williams proved simply unstoppable in the second half. He scored 24 of his 26 points on 8 of 12 shooting, grabbed seven of his nine rebounds and made 8 of 10 free throws after halftime. And in the final 3:19, against 6-9, 225-pound Hauser and 6-7, 210-pound Malik Hall in the paint, Williams scored 10 of Purdue’s final 12 points.

“If I'm being honest with you, I think we followed our game plan to the tee,” said MSU senior guard Joshua Langford, who had 10 points. “Williams is an unbelievable player, so you have to expect for him to get some type of shots up and get some offense going. The biggest thing we wanted to do was to try to contain him.”

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Williams had one brief rest in the second half, returning with 13:17 to play after he scored five points in an 8-0 run after the Spartans turned their 15-point halftime advantage into a 33-16 lead a minute into the second period.

As Williams returned, MSU rebuilt its lead to nine on a pair of free throws from Marcus Bingham Jr. But the Purdue big man got a tip-in through traffic, then drew a foul on a layup with 12:14 to play when Bingham tried to step up and help on Jaden Ivey after Rocket Watts lost his footing backpedaling and left the Boilermakers guard alone in the paint. Ivey dumped it to Williams, who finished through Bingham’s contact.

Bingham, who blocked three shots in the first half, went to the bench for good after that play.

“A week ago, you guys would have asked what the hell Bingham is doing in the game,” said Izzo, adding he felt the 6-11, 215-pound Bingham’s slender build would have been a problem against the beefy Williams. “I did what I did and it all falls on me, so blame me for it.”

Michigan State's Marcus Bingham Jr., right, guards Purdue's Trevion Williams during the first half on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
Michigan State's Marcus Bingham Jr., right, guards Purdue's Trevion Williams during the first half on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

Thomas Kithier replaced Bingham and was switching off with Hall, who played the final 13-plus minutes. Watts and Foster Loyer, in the backcourt together, each committed a turnover during MSU’s prolonged shooting drought. Then Williams posted Kithier deep, and the 6-8 MSU forward’s elbow to the back was his fourth foul. He, too, went to the bench for good.

Enter Julius Marble with 10:41 to go. Williams bullied through him for a three-point play. Exit the freshman with 8:10 left and the Spartans’ lead pared to 41-38.

Izzo never turned back to any of his four centers, including freshman Madi Sissoko, who held Williams to 1 of 2 shooting and two points in the first half. Sissoko sat the final 15:17.

“I'm all good with critical decisions,” Izzo said. “I'm not like half the people – if I didn't make the right one, I'll man up to it; and if I did make the right one, I'll look at it on film and tell you why.”

It was Hauser and Hall the rest of the way on Williams, who had 16 points at that point. They held him without a basket for more than 5 minutes, with Hauser’s 3-pointer snapping the 12-plus minute stretch without a field goal and keeping MSU in front 48-43 with 3:42 to play.

Then Williams took over.

He split Hall and Hauser for a layup with 3:19 to play to quell the Spartans’ momentum, then went through them again with 2:28 to play. Williams backed Hauser down and drew the MSU junior’s third foul, making 1 of 2 free throws, then hit a pair to pull within 51-50 with 1:21 to play after again posting up Hauser for his fourth whistle.

Aaron Henry split four Purdue defenders on the ensuing possession for a driving layup with 1:01 left, got a steal, then split a pair of free throws with 19.1 to play. That set up the final sequence.

The Spartans’ lineup: Hauser and Hall inside, with Watts at point guard along with Henry and Langford in the backcourt. Watts, who finished the final 1:13 after Izzo sent A.J. Hoggard to the bench, fouled Purdue’s Eric Hunter Jr. with 11.9 seconds left, then got knocked to the ground on the ensuing inbound pass with 11.6 to play as the ball grazed off his fingers out of bounds for a turnover near Purdue’s basket.

Izzo said he thought Watts may have been fouled.

"It looked for me like they were over his back," he said. "I couldn't see it, so I don't know. I didn't like the call at all."

Michigan State Spartans forwards Malik Hall (25) and   Aaron Henry defend Purdue Boilermakers forward Trevion Williams during the second half at Breslin Center in East Lansing, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021.
Michigan State Spartans forwards Malik Hall (25) and Aaron Henry defend Purdue Boilermakers forward Trevion Williams during the second half at Breslin Center in East Lansing, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021.

Henry just missed a loose ball rebound but fouled Williams, who made 1 of 2, with 9.8 left. Then a loose ball tie-up between Hauser and Hunter remained with the Boilermakers. Matt Painter called timeout with 6.4 left, called a double screen in the middle of the paint for Williams with Hall guarding him. Hall got clipped, Hauser was late with help, and Williams buried the game-winning hook shot from the left block.

“I think in those last 20 seconds, they made the effort plays,” said Henry, who scored 13 points but missed a runner at the final buzzer. “A couple of things went their way.”

Izzo’s explanations for his lineup moves late included:

* “We didn't feel as comfortable with some of the other guys.”

* “Joey had done a good job on (Williams), to be very honest with you, but then he got his fourth foul. And Malik had been playing pretty good.”

* “They ran some stuff, got it high to low. I thought there was a lot of pushing off both ways.”

* “Sometimes our skinny big guys — you got to remember, when Marky was in there a lot (in the first half), Trevion wasn't in there as much because he was in foul trouble. And Trevion's a load.”

* “We were worried about free-throw shooting, and Madi and Marky aren't as good of free-throw shooters.”

Everything sounded as if he was reaching for reasons. In part because he was, as well as trying to process a huge lead vanishing and squandering a second straight defensive gem. MSU limited one of the Big Ten’s best 3-point shooting teams to 3 of 24 from deep, including 0 for 12 in the first half, and held them to 33.9% shooting overall.

“What we didn’t want to do was give up a 3,” Izzo said about the end-game strategy, “because we didn’t think they could keep beating us with the 2.”

Except that’s exactly what Purdue did.

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State basketball fades in post vs. Trevion Williams, Purdue