No Keith Appling. No Branden Dawson. Adreian Payne playing in just his second game after sitting out seven straight with a foot injury.
The bruised and battered Spartans needed to do a lot to try and steal a win Sunday at the Kohl Center, and though they came close, head coach Tom Izzo said his team just tried a little too hard.
“I told my team, when you have these kinds of injuries everybody tries to do too much,” Izzo said after the game. “We had a couple of guys early that tried to be heroes, and Adreian really struggled defensively early. But give the kid credit. He actually played better late, and that’s what happens when you miss a month.”
Michigan State fell, 60-58, on a buzzer-beating jumper by Wisconsin guard Traevon Jackson, just the Spartans’ fourth loss of the season and only their second in Big Ten play. But you knew it was going to be tricky, what with Appling missing his second straight game with a wrist injury and Payne starting for the first time in a month.
Payne might have “struggled” early, as his coach said, but he came up with the biggest shot of the game — until Jackson’s of course — when the big man knocked down a 3-pointer to tie things up at 58 with just seconds left. All in all, he finished with a game-high 24 points, absolutely carrying his team to a near miss in Madison.
“Give Payne credit,” Izzo said. “He hit a big shot being dead tired.”
The Spartans needed Payne’s strong effort, too. In addition to two starters sitting on the bench with injuries, Michigan State’s best scorer, Gary Harris, had a dreadful day from the field. The Big Ten’s leading scorer (18.2 points per game) scored just six Sunday, going 3-for-20 from the field, including an 0-for-7 day from 3-point range.
Izzo refused to put his leading scorer into the “trying to do too much” group, but there’s no getting around Harris’ cold day. That, though, can be at least partially credited to the Badgers’ defense, as Josh Gasser and others limited Harris to his worst scoring day of the season and just his second single-digit scoring output.
“Well, Josh works as hard as he normally works. He got some help from teammates also,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. “When a guy has an off night, is it the defense? Is it just something isn’t right on the shot or something goes a little haywire? You never know, it is always a combination. The answer is always somewhere in between. But Josh did a great job of chasing and positioning himself, and he had some real good help from his teammates, too.”
“It was a full team effort there,” Gasser said. “I just didn’t want to give him anything easy. He got going a little bit, in the second half, he got those two fast-break dunks. I was kind of thinking to myself, ‘Uh-oh, he’s going to get going now.’ But fortunately, I just tried to force him to my help, and my guys did a good job of helping me out with some tough shots. Sometimes he makes them, sometimes he doesn’t. Fortunately, tonight he didn’t.”
Michigan State has now dropped three of its last five games. Despite displaying an incredible amount of resilience while battling this season’s rash of injuries, the bumps in the road are coming faster and more furious at the moment. Any further absence of Appling, the team’s senior leader, could prove serious. Next up is a pair of home games against Northwestern and Nebraska, but the main foe isn’t the Wildcats or Huskers. It’s health.
That and trying to do too much.