Why Tom Izzo played 'musical chairs' with Michigan State basketball's centers

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Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press
·5 min read
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Tom Izzo made a number of curious decisions with his personnel Tuesday night’s 75-65 loss at Purdue. None more puzzling than with Michigan State basketball’s revolving door of big men.

Marcus Bingham Jr. started both halves but went scoreless and without a rebound in his 2:54 of court time. He had three fouls in his limited action.

Sophomore Julius Marble put together a strong second half, scoring 10 of the Spartans’ 13 points during his 6-minute, 47-second stretch. He converted a pair of hard-driving, and-one layups, drawing fouls and completing the free throws. He also held Purdue’s Trevion Williams to just two baskets during that span.

Michigan State forward Julius Marble II (34) shoots over Purdue forward Trevion Williams during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michigan State forward Julius Marble II (34) shoots over Purdue forward Trevion Williams during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

When he went to the bench visibly tired, with MSU leading by two after his up-and-under layup around Williams, Thomas Kithier replaced him. Purdue went on a quick 8-3 run.

“Marble was gassed. That was part of the reason we took him out,” Izzo said. “On the other side of it, Kithier did a pretty good job with him last time.”

Izzo stuck with Kithier for the next 5:48 instead of going back to Marble or freshman Mady Sissoko, whose five points and four rebounds in 6:39 of first-half action kept the Spartans in the game early. There were three timeouts during that run with Kithier in the lineup.

Williams blocked a Kithier shot immediately then delivered a pair of assists to Jaden Ivey from the post. Purdue's star slipped away from Kithier for a dunk, then hit a tough shot with the MSU junior in his face. Williams appeared to have an easy layup with 3:42 to play; Kithier instead got called for a flagrant-1 foul for grabbing Williams by his jersey and shoulder to try and prevent a shot.

Marble replaced Kithier after that play, but it was too late. He’d lost his offensive rhythm, and Williams scored twice over Marble to help put MSU away. Williams scored 10 points in the final 4:45.

Sissoko did not play in the second half. Kithier finished with just one layup and one rebound in 10:36 of action.

More: Michigan State basketball tumble continues in 75-65 loss to Purdue; NCAAs look like a dream

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“We could have gone with Mady a little bit more,” Izzo admitted. “Marcus plays good the other night (against Iowa) and then he's in so much foul trouble and just his weakness. … We keep trying musical chairs there, which isn't good either. But you can see why — one game somebody plays good, one game, somebody else plays good.”

Some other personnel notes:

• Malik Hall didn't play the final 16:30 after starting the second half and despite getting all of his team-high six rebounds in the first half. The sophomore forward scored all three of his points at the free-throw line and did not register a field goal attempt.

• Gabe Brown, who struggled with his shooting in the first half, played just 13 minutes and sat the final 5:43 right after hitting one of his two 3-pointers and grabbing two rebounds to help pull MSU within a point.

• A.J. Hoggard started in place of Foster Loyer at point guard and scored two of the Spartans’ first three baskets on driving layups. The freshman equaled the season high of 26 minutes he played in the first loss to Purdue, but did not score again. He grabbed five rebounds, did not have an assist and committed two turnovers. Izzo dabbled with Joshua Langford and Aaron Henry running the offense at times.

Watts still sick

Michigan State guard Rocket Watts, right, drives on Purdue guard Eric Hunter Jr. during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michigan State guard Rocket Watts, right, drives on Purdue guard Eric Hunter Jr. during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Rocket Watts continued to test negative for COVID-19 and played 12-plus minutes, but Izzo said his sophomore combo guard played while still battling what is believed to be the flu.

Izzo said Watts practiced some Monday after leaving Saturday’s 88-58 loss to Iowa at halftime.

“I thought he would be OK,” Izzo said. “Then today before the game, he told our trainer he'd try to go but didn't think he could. He was I think throwing up again during the day.”

Watts had four assists but went scoreless and did not grab a rebound. His last stretch of nearly 4 1/2 minutes included two turnovers, a missed layup and a missed 3-pointer before he checked out with 2:23 remaining and MSU down five points.

It was Watts’ first scoreless game of the season and his eighth straight being held under double digits. The 6-foot-2 Detroit native has 28 rebounds in 19 games this season.

Loyer surgery?

Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon (3) defends Michigan State guard Foster Loyer (3) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in East Lansing, Mich., Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon (3) defends Michigan State guard Foster Loyer (3) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in East Lansing, Mich., Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Loyer continued to be limited by a left shoulder injury, playing 2:12 in the first half with a rebound and a turnover before going to the bench for the rest of the game.

Izzo said his junior point guard’s shoulder “is definitely gonna need surgery when the year’s over.”

“Foster Loyer, he gave me everything,” Izzo said. “He was so good on the bench. He knew every call, every play. And he just couldn't go.”

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: Tom Izzo plays 'musical chairs' at center