While Michigan state players went 11 days without full team training during their recent COVID-19 hiatus, the only thing they could do was practice marksmanship.
Players have been allowed into the Breslin Center to shoot as nearly all other aspects of the program have been shut down. That fact led to some cautious optimism from Tom Izzo earlier this week that despite a 20-day layoff, his players’ shots would still fall when they returned to action.
“I hope we shoot a little better from the 3rd,” Izzo said on Tuesday. “We have a lot of shots.”
But when the lights went on, all that shooting was in vain.
The Spartans had one of the worst offensive nights in program history when they lost 67-37 to Rutgers on Thursday night.
Their 37 points marked the second-smallest shot clock era in Michigan state basketball history, one point better than the 36 the team racked up in January 2008 against the ‘Iowa. Their 28.6 percent from the ground marked the Spartans’ second-worst shooting percentage of the year.
In terms of efficiency, Michigan State now has the worst offense in the Big Ten game, per Kenpom.com.
Of the many problems for a Michigan State team that is now 2-5 in the Big Ten and is considering a bout in stride to make the NCAA Tournament, offense emerges as the most important. .
“We just didn’t do the things we thought we could do,” Izzo said of his team’s offense.
The problems with the Michigan state offensive on Thursday were numerous.
Start with those misses. Izzo thought his team were missing a lot of what they usually do, pointing to Joshua Langford’s seven misfires (1 for 8) and Malik Hall’s five (1 for 6) as shots that could have dropped at a higher rate. .
Four of those misfires came early in the second half, when Rutgers rolled an 11-2 that ultimately decided the game.
“We had some guys who missed some wide shots, especially early in the second half,” said Izzo. “You hit a few, it changes the game, but we didn’t, and the game got away from us.”
Hall said if players spend weeks hitting shots in empty gyms, hitting them in a game is different.
“It’s a pace of play, so it’s a little different,” said Hall. “I think it will start to stabilize after a little while.”
But a historically bad offensive night was about more than missed shots.
The Spartans also returned the ball 21 times, a season high. This not only limited the team’s shots, but often led to easy baskets on the other end for Rutgers.
And while some good shots were missed, the Spartans also took plenty of low percentage shots.
Izzo said side-to-side movement of the ball has been accentuated all week. But when the playing time came, the Spartans reverted more to individual play that produced few decent looks.
“The ball was stagnant a lot,” said Aaron Henry.
Two months into the season, the Spartans are still looking for a competent playmaker to help with this ball movement. Thursday marked rookie AJ Hoggard’s fourth start, after coaching staff ended their efforts to make Rocket Watts the team’s main point guard earlier this month.
While Hoggard continued to show positive signs, making him the starting point guardian unexpectedly included his expected growing pains. He had three turnovers and two assists on Thursday.
“We’re not very strong there yet,” Izzo said of the point guard. “We must continue to work to improve ourselves in this area. “
All of these issues tend to snowball, Izzo admitted. Frustration can make a bad play make a worse play. Four times Thursday, the Spartans missed at least four shots in a row and turnovers often came in clusters.
And among the team’s many offensive contenders – six Spartans players have scored 15 or more points in a game this season – none were able to do so on Thursday. Henry’s seven points were a high for the team.
Yet while discussing all of this, Izzo remained calm. His team has up to 13 regular season games and the Big Ten tournament remains to secure an NCAA tournament offer, and there appears to be only one direction for the Spartans offense.
“We’ll get there,” Izzo said. “I think we’ll play better as we practice a bit. “