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January 23, 2011

"It's probably out of reach"

The board in the MSU locker room at Mackey Arena read "8-4." It was written before Saturday's loss to Purdue, and it was a reference to the stretch in the first half of games when road teams sometimes lose their footing.

    It was roughly during that time frame when Illinois took control of the game Tuesday. And it was right around the time the Boilermakers went on a 25-8 tear to turn the second half into one big, torturous game of catch-up for the Spartans -- who will need both a dramatic turnaround in performance and lot of help to be considered "in the race" again in 2011.

    Tom Izzo bristled when asked if it was time to adjust goals, calling it a "dumb question" and saying he'll be fighting for a Big Ten title "until the last day." But Draymond Green agreed that the Big Ten is "probably out of reach." At least, barring a "miracle."

    "Whoever is still in the Big Ten race," Green said, "we're gonna try to make their lives miserable."

    Green and Kalin Lucas talked one on one after the game about that, and Lucas said they vowed to "demand more of our teammates." Izzo and all the players agreed on one thing in spite of the loss.

    "We're so close, it's ridiculous," Delvon Roe said. "We're right there."

    Certainly, Green and Roe are right there. They were terrific against Purdue, working together and giving MSU just the kind of inside-outside offense it's been seeking. JaJuan Johnson may have scored 20 points, but I thought Roe guarded him as well as anyone I've seen guard Johnson. Seriously. Did he make anything other than a contested jumper or a free throw?

    MSU lost this game because Lucas went 3 of 16 (including several layups), and because it let things get away during the "8-4." The Spartans were brutal defensively at times in the first half, and Keith Appling's foul trouble -- along with Durrell Summers' defensive mistakes -- led to a lineup at one point with Mike Kebler and Austin Thornton together. None of MSU's guards got it done on defense in the first half, and although they were better in the second half (Izzo singled out Summers' second-half defense as cause for praise), 58 percent shooting is 58 percent shooting.

    Championship teams find ways to win. Look at Ohio State. Down eight at Illinois, in big trouble, and suddenly DeShaun Thomas goes nuts off the bench. MSU right now is not getting breaks, not creating enough breaks, plugging leaks just as new ones pop up. Still, if the Spartans get better this week at home (U-M and Indiana), stay healthy and stay attentive despite all the disappointment, I'll agree with Roe on this statement: "Teams will be afraid to play us come March."

    Probably not what you wanted to hear in late January.



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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter

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