EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo stood at the podium, occasionally shaking his head with the frustration of a losing coach.
He assured the media that the Spartans’ 77-66 home win over Iowa on Saturday night had him thrilled, but a few things baffled him. First off, his team’s 21 turnovers left him searching for answers.
And secondly, he couldn’t quite understand how this team could be the same one that got walloped 86-57 by Michigan on Tuesday. A young roster has brought tremendous inconsistency in some areas and tremendous consistency in others.
Here’s how Izzo broke down the victory.
On 21 turnovers and Josh Langford: “That has to change. There’s no way on God’s green earth that a team can turn it over 21. That’s like six interceptions in football with 15 penalties. But I’m going to try to go past that and say we ran the ball better. Josh Langford (11 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists), I thought, looked more like a (former Spartans guard) Charlie Bell, pounding the offensive boards. They’ve got him down for no offensive rebounds. I asked that crew. I thought if you get a tip, it’s one.
“But Josh kept so many balls alive early that two of the first three baskets, I think, were caused by him. And then he ran. We’ve been asking him to run and rebound, and he ran and he got those open shots from three, and he buried them. Big day for him.”
On defending Iowa’s leading scorer, Peter Jok: “Franny (Iowa coach Fran McCaffery) has got a lot of the same issues I have. We have some young guys, and we did the job on their ace — or did a decent job on him, I should say. Jok (13 points on 2-for-11 shooting) has been very good, and that was the difference in the game.”
On playing freshman Miles Bridges too much: “We played him too many minutes, 37 minutes. Just can’t do that. I’m gonna crucify myself up here because that’s a poor job on my part. I thought he looked tired the second half. We put him in a position when he had to help because he had a guy that was guarding him that wasn’t a great shooter, and we want him to help and help other guys get some deflections. He still gets 11 rebounds, and he still shoots 50 percent. He only has one turnover. I thought he played good, but the second half, I thought he was great.
“That’s the cool thing about him. When I asked him after how he felt, he was mad. He said, ‘I didn’t rebound well second half.’ That was all good. We’ve got to do a better job with him. We’ve got to get him more rest than that. We were trying to run up and down, and the way they were running up and down, that was not good coaching.”
On the freshmen, particularly Langford and Nick Ward: “I loved the way both of them played. I tell parents, I tell coaches, I tell everybody, I tell the media there’s a process. Maybe I don’t understand the process. Maybe I’m looking for too much out of those guys sometimes. (Josh) played like I think Charlie played as a junior. He just was a lot more aggressive on the break. He ran his lane. He drove a couple times. Even when he missed a couple shots, I thought he was just more aggressive. Getting to the offensive glass; he defended pretty. I think you see what Josh Langford can be.
“I thought Nick was as dialed in as I’ve seen him this year. When he got his second foul and he had to come out, he stayed dialed in. I’m very leery of giving everybody credit, especially at this time of year, but I was really proud of those two guys. And (freshman point guard) Cassius (Winston), for being as average as he was the first half and exceptional as he was the second half, I think all three of them had the same issues, and I guess that’s why I’m here. They’ve got to learn to play with some passion and intensity. I even saw Josh jump up and down a couple times. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But I think it’s important.”
On the turnovers: “I can’t live with it. You know as well as I do, in big games, you can’t be — not saying this wasn’t a big game, but you can’t win against real good teams, you can’t win in the Big Ten Tournament, you can’t win in the NCAA Tournament if you’re turning the ball over 21 times. You just watched the Super Bowl. It doesn’t change in any sport.
“This was a weird set of turnovers, too. The first half was one way. We’re dribbling the ball, we fall down. I don’t know if I can coach that different. We showed all our players the turnovers at Michigan, tried to go through that. I hate to say it, but it’s going to come down to turning the ball over in practice, it’s going to get drastic. We’re not valuing the ball. That should all fall on me.”