Weary Michigan State basketball can't keep up with Notre Dame in 70-52 loss

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - All of the hyper focus, all of the enthusiastic energy, all of the necessary grittiness. Nowhere to be found.

And on the final day of a November to remember, Michigan State basketball put together a performance to forget.

Notre Dame blitzed the 20th-ranked Spartans from the outset Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, dialing in from deep and taxing MSU's already weary legs in a 70-52 thrashing in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

"I didn't think anybody did a very good job, from our coaches to our players. ... So we could use the excuse that we're tired. I really don't think that has anything to do with not getting back in the beginning of the game or the things that we went through," coach Tom Izzo said. "I think they smashed us in the mouth. They deserved what they got. They played harder than we did."

Cormac Ryan scorched the nets from outside in the first half, finishing with 23 points to help the Irish (6-1) build a 23-point lead they wouldn't relinquish. JJ Starling added 14 points, Dane Goodwin 12 and Nate Laszewski added nine points and eight rebounds for Notre Dame.

Notre Dame
Notre Dame's Cormac Ryan celebrates during the first half on Wednesday, Nov.  

The Irish shot 50% from the floor and made 11 of 26 from 3-point range, including eight from deep in the first half.

"I think our focus was really good. I think our energy was really good," Ryan said. "And, listen, it's a big game. Guys rise to the occasion. And we wanted it bad."

A.J. Hoggard 15 points on 5 of 13 shooting to lead MSU (6-2), which last won at Notre Dame on Feb. 5, 1975, and Wednesday was just the second at Joyce Center since that game. Tyson Walker and Joey Hauser each scored 12 but made just 9 of 26 shots between them, while Hauser and Mady Sissoko combined for 15 of MSU's 29 rebounds.

The Spartans shot just 38.9% from the field and went 4 for 12 from 3-point range.

"Fatigue at this point, I mean, we knew this was the schedule that we had," Hauser said. "And we knew there's really no excuses, I guess, because these are the games that we want to play in. So we really weren't thinking about fatigue."

The Spartans host Northwestern to open Big Ten play Sunday, the first of two December league games. Tipoff is 7 p.m. at Breslin Center in East Lansing (BTN).

Guard Jaden Akins (left foot) went through early warmups but did not play for the fourth straight game. Forward Malik Hall also missed his fourth straight game with a left foot injury and is not expected to return until later in December.

Izzo said Walker found out before MSU's pregame meal that a close family member died, and Izzo said his senior guard "was going through pregame in tears."

"It was a tough situation, an unfortunate situation," Hoggard said. "We just tried to rally around him before the game and get through it and go out there and play a basketball game."

Irish blitz 'em early

All of the things the Spartans did in a first month of the season that had them a bit ahead of where Tom Izzo thought they would be vanished early in their seventh game in 19 days.

It was noticeable on the defensive end, where MSU's guards struggled to get around screens and arrived late on rotational help. That allowed the Irish to bury eight first-half 3-pointers, including a scorching 5-for-5 from Ryan. The 6-5 guard also took Spartans off the dribble into the paint, dropping 20 points on 7-for-8 shooting.

"We went under (screens) early because they haven't been making shots, and we were concerned with Laszewski picking and popping or slipping. And give them credit, they hit a couple and we changed our coverage and then went back to what we'd normally do," Izzo said. "We just didn't guard. I mean, we just did not. We have not guarded well and you know since those two guys (Akins and Hall) have gone out."

MSU's lethargic legs also showed on offense, particularly in getting outscored, 14-2, in the paint at one point and failing to establish post-up position against the undersized six-man rotation Irish coach Mike Brey uses. The Spartans settled for a number of long jumpers and shot a meager 37% from the floor while making 2-for-7 from deep.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo reacts against Notre Dame during the first half on Wednesday, Nov.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo reacts against Notre Dame during the first half on Wednesday, Nov.  

That combination led to MSU trailing at one point by 23 points on an eight-point run from Ryan that included a pair of 3-pointers, the second of which caused Izzo to burn a timeout with 4:31 before half.

"At one point there, I mean, it just felt like everything was going in. And we didn't do a great job defensively," Hauser said. "And credit them, obviously, they just had a great shooting night. Those nights happen, but we gotta get better from this."

Hauser had eight points with four rebounds, and both Walker and Hoggard scored seven at the break as the Irish led convincingly, 42-24.

Izzo said Hauser "played well and did the things we wanted done," adding he felt Hoggard played "OK."

Slight spark in second half extinguished quickly

Izzo's frustration with Pierre Brooks II's defense led to him starting grad transfer walk-on Jason Whitens after halftime.

That delivered a bit of a spark, as Hoggard scored MSU's first six points out of the break and assisted on Walker's driving layup, which pulled the Spartans within 15.

"At some point," Hauser said, "you just gotta try to chip away one by one, cut it 10, cut it to 15, whatever it might be."

But Ryan drained a 3-pointer to give breathing room after MSU failed to cut it further with four empty possessions. The Spartans pulled to within 14 twice, the last time on a Mady Sissoko cross-paint assist to a cutting Carson Cooper and a put-back bucket for Sissoko. But Laszewski hit a 3-pointer over Hauser, then Hauser shot an airball at the other end and lost Laszewski for a dunk on defense as Notre Dame's lead once again swelled to 21.

"I think at the defensive end, we gotta go back to drawing board and just learn from it," Hoggard said.

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State can't keep up with Notre Dame in ACC/Big Ten Challenge


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