Earlier this week Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo took responsibility for his team’s issues on the defensive end, as the Spartans’ adjustment to the points of emphasis announced before the season began hasn’t come as quickly as many expected. Wednesday night the struggles continued, as Michigan State couldn’t find an answer to the riddle that was Nebraska senior wing Shavon Shields.
Shields was outstanding, leading all scorers with 28 points, shooting 12-for-20 from the field, to lead the Huskers to a 72-71 win in East Lansing. Michigan State, which had a final shot at the win but Denzel Valentine’s jumper as time expired missed the mark, has now lost its last three conference games and has a 3-4 record in conference play.
With Iowa, which has already swept the season series, and Indiana both without a conference loss the Spartans’ chances of hoisting the Big Ten regular season title may have fallen by the wayside with this defeat.
Defense was once again the culprit, as Nebraska shot 50 percent from the field on the night. Tim Miles’ team isn’t going to rack up the assists, as they entered Wednesday’s with just over 48 percent of their made baskets being of the assisted variety. Instead, they use the likes of Shields, Tai Webster and Glynn Watson to break down opposing defenses, with mixed results to this point in the season.
That wasn’t the case against Michigan State, with the Spartans playing without their best perimeter defender in Tum Tum Nairn for the second consecutive game and at times seemingly afraid to make any kind of contact. Outside of Eron Harris the Spartans didn’t have the early foul trouble they’ve endured in recent games, but they still had issues slowing down Shields and his teammates throughout Wednesday’s game.
Also of note was the off night experienced by Bryn Forbes, who scored three points on 1-for-8 shooting. The senior’s struggled in two of Michigan State’s last three games, as Anthony Clemmons held him in check in Iowa’s win in East Lansing last week, and this comes after scoring 17 points or more in three straight games. In addition to needing to do a better job of adjusting defensively, the Spartans need to get to the point where both Forbes and Eron Harris are clicking on the wings at the same time.
That should come in time, but the bigger concern in the defense. Once again Michigan State struggled on that end of the floor, and while they did have a final chance to grab the win it proved to be too much to overcome.