No. 2 Michigan State (1-1) showed plenty of exciting things Tuesday night in Chicago’s United Center during an 88-81 Champions Classic loss to No. 1 Duke.
Jaren Jackson Jr. looked as much like an NBA lottery pick as ever, showing off his inside-out game on offense and displaying his tremendous potential on defense with 19 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks on 3 for 5 shooting from beyond the arc. The Spartans protected the rim with 12 blocks and utilized their much-improved front court depth. On the other end, they shot the ball very well.
So, what led to the loss? Plenty. Luckily for the Spartans, it’s just the second game of the season. There’s plenty of time to get things straightened out. And there’s plenty that needs to get straightened out. Here’s what went wrong:
1. Michigan State lost this game on the glass
It’s been more than a decade since Michigan State allowed that many offensive boards, and the Spartans will hope another decade passes before it happens again. Duke reeled in 25 offensive rebounds in this game. To put that in context, the Blue Devils rebounded 54.3 percent of their missed shots. It’s an unacceptable number that nullifies any advantage gained by shooting 50.8 percent from the field.
Some of that can be attributed to the Spartans’ 12 blocks. When you reject a shot, it’s likely going back to the offense. But Michigan State still needed to do a much better job of getting a body on Duke players rather than just trying to outjump them. The game should have shifted heavily in the Spartans’ favor when Blue Devils freshman superstar Marvin Bagley left the game with an eye injury, but Wendell Carter and Marques Bolden picked up the slack.
Seventeen turnovers didn’t help, but we’ve seen that from Michigan State before, and it didn’t feel nearly as crucial as Duke’s rebounding domination.
2. Point guard play went Duke’s way
It didn’t look like this would be the case early on. Michigan State sophomore Cassius Winston made some pinpoint passes to hit teammates in transition, and Duke’s Trevon Duval missed open jumpers as the Spartans sagged off. But as the game wore on, Winston struggled. He lost Duval on defense as the Blue Devils’ freshman floor general pushed the ball up the floor in a hurry, carved his way through the lane and kept finding Grayson Allen, who finished with 37 points.
On the other end of the floor, Winston had a tough time breaking down Duke’s 2-3 zone. Duval’s length caused problems from start to finish, and he finished with 6 steals. Winston made some spectacular passes, but when he tried to attack the zone with the dribble, he lost the ball on several occasions, finishing with 5 turnovers. And though he finished with 11 assists, Winston had trouble finding his own shot. He finished 1 for 5 and missed his only two shots from beyond the arc, a disappointing outing for the Spartans’ best shooter.
3. Miles Bridges couldn’t get an inch of space
What? Didn’t he score 19 points? Yes, and he helped to keep the Spartans in the game. But Michigan State’s national player-of-the-year candidate never seemed to get into his comfort zone on offense. Bridges excels when he’s attacking the lane and amping his team up with jaw-dropping finishes above the rim. In this game, the zone largely relegated him to the perimeter. He did hit 5 shots from long range, but when he tried to force his way into the lane, it led to turnovers. He had 5 on the night, matching Winston’s game-high.
The zone defense clearly agitated Michigan State and annoyed its fans. It did exactly what it needed to do to limit the damage Bridges could inflict. He didn’t get a single open look all game, but he did all he could in a tough situation.
Honorable mention: Free throw shooting. Michigan State showed signs through its exhibition games that it could take care of business at the line better than in years past, but 10 for 18 didn’t cut it on Tuesday.