When reserve guard Brandan Kearney decided to leave Michigan State for good after the holiday break, it seemed to have set in forth a series of unwelcome events for the Spartans; most notably, the struggle of MSU's "big men" in Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne. This was most-evident during the Spartans' 76-63 loss at No. 9 Minnesota on Monday night.
Michigan State quickly found that with the loss of Kearney, their perimeter depth was cut and head coach Tom Izzo needed to find some way to plug up the holes. In Minnesota, those holes were painfully-obvious when both Payne and Nix found their numbers to be a bit underwhelming (Nix was five for 15 for 10 points and Payne was two of six for four points).
Payne was quickly in hot water during the match up with a number of fouls that kept him handcuffed at best. Izzo could only muster that Payne "didn't play very well" when asked about the young player's performance. As for Nix, Izzo spoke of the big man's lack of post-ups that contributed to the Spartans' loss.
"He's been making them in practice, he made them last week," Izzo said. "I mean, his were, I mean those two or three put-backs were, you can't get any closer except to dunk it. I don't know why. Maybe I played him a few too many minutes, I'll have to take a look at that. I don't think he's a 30-minute-a-game player and yet he didn't show fatigue. But he showed it in other ways."
Complacency may have been the downfall in the second half that led to the Spartans' defeat according to Nix. The captain felt that when his team held a lead late in the game, they let their guard down.
"You can't relax," Nix said. "Because the crowd gets into it and you'll lose like we did. So we've just got to go back and fix the little twitches and be back for Purdue."
Overall, Izzo was still able to see some signs of promise in the loss to the Gophers. Despite his tough criticism of some key players, the coach knows that even in a loss, the team is forced to grow.
"There were more encouraging things for me," Izzo said. "That sounds dumb, because the program's got to be at a different level here, but I think there were more encouraging things."
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