1. This performance was coming for MSU at some point
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Michigan State could have used the ACC/Big Ten Challenge to end a year earlier.
This type of game felt like it was coming at some point for MSU, given the November the Spartans have had. Better to have it happen Wednesday night at Notre Dame than Sunday at home against Northwestern or next Wednesday at Penn State, when a loss would linger in the Big Ten standings all season.
You could see it pretty early Wednesday night — tired legs in a true road game against an opponent coming off its first loss and playing its first marquee game. Shots fell for Notre Dame like they haven’t all year. In Cormac Ryan’s case, more than they have all year altogether. The Irish senior wing was 5-for-23 from beyond the arc before Wednesday. During Wednesday night’s 70-52 Notre Dame win, he hit the first six 3-pointers he attempted.
MSU didn’t defend him with great vigor out of the gate. But eventually it was just his night. And it wasn't the Spartans'. Outside of Joey Hauser, just about everyone struggled.
“I think we were due for one, all of us,” said Ryan, who also talked about how big this game was for Notre Dame, for its NCAA tournament aspirations.
This game didn't have that big-game feel for MSU.
This was a feel-good home game for the Irish. The Spartans will have one of those at some point. It doesn’t make the win total BS. But it’s circumstantial and environment-based. It’s why true road wins are so impressive. There’s often a lot to overcome.
The circumstances for MSU were these: This was Game 8 in a grueling month of games and travel, with all sorts of different styles of opponents and venues. I don't know if it was actual fatigue. Tom Izzo didn't think so. They're young guys. It was more fatigue of focus, perhaps. If MSU had injured mainstays Malik Hall and Jaden Akins healthy and available, the Spartans would have had some athletic advantages that might have kept this from becoming a make-or-miss game. Or just more guys that could make a shot.
For as much grit and effort as Jason Whitens gives MSU, when Tyson Walker drives the ball and kicks it out, it makes a difference if Hall instead of Whitens is receiving the pass.
Before November, Izzo and most fans would have signed up to escape the month 5-3. The record isn’t the issue. It’s that this was a game the Spartans will feel they could have won — and might win if they played again tomorrow. That said, MSU could have lost to Oregon or Portland last weekend. This team, short-handed, could lose to a lot of teams. They’ll take 5-3, even if this was a rough way to get there.
“This team has done some incredible things,” Izzo said of his squad. “If we would have won tonight, I said to myself, to my staff, it'd be one of the greatest starts in my 28-year career. I thought 6-2 would have been a phenomenal start under the circumstances — injuries, fatigue and the schedule we played. (Being) 5-3 I'm not quite as excited about.”
2. The next two games are really important for the Spartans
MSU may or may not have Jaden Akins back for Northwestern on Sunday and its game at Penn State next Wednesday. It won't have Malik Hall. Either way, the Spartans have got to find a way to win them both. There’s enough quality in the Big Ten that anything less than a 2-0 start will have the Spartans playing catch-up. I think that Penn State game is going to be tough — the Nittany Lions are a lot better than expected — and it's a game during which the Spartans will really miss Hall.
But the response Sunday night at Breslin Center is just as important. Northwestern has a backcourt in Boo Buie and Chase Audige that’s beaten MSU before, that won’t be intimidated, especially by this shorthanded crew.
MSU needs to get off its feet for a minute and then dial back in. A lighter stretch is coming. Just not yet.
3. Freshman thoughts — the Notre Dame edition
Given how the game went, this was not surprisingly a tough night for MSU’s three freshmen, each of whom had a hand in the Spartans’ struggles.
The moment that defined their night was Carson Cooper’s fast-break defense, trailing Notre Dame freshman Van-Allen Lubin, Cooper’s back to the play, his arms blindly out wide. The ball went right by Cooper to Lubin, who laid it in the basket while Cooper fouled him.
That was it for a while for Cooper, who played five first-half minutes, missed a bucket, committed a foul and didn’t record another stat. He got another chance midway through the second half, with MSU down 18, and scored pretty quickly to bring the Spartans to within 16. I think it was smart to get him back in there. It was a short stint, but he left this game with a better feeling about things than when he left it the first time. If you’re trying to develop players, you have to play them.
Fellow freshman big man Jaxon Kohler finally got a post bucket to drop — on a nice, quick move early in the second half. He struggled on the glass, getting his hands on or near several rebounds that he couldn’t come up with.
Tre Holloman was part of Cormac Ryan’s big night. As soon as he entered in the second half, Ryan got loose, Holloman was late to recover and that became Ryan’s sixth 3-pointer. I believe there was also a Ryan 3 in the first half over Pierre Brooks, who was helping elsewhere, that was actually Holloman’s fault.
These three experienced the perils of a true road game for the first time at MSU — the opponent can’t miss, nothing’s going right, etc.
It’ll get tougher than this.
Contact Graham Couch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: MSU basketball falls big at Notre Dame: 3 quick takes