East Lansing — There’s two ways to look at Michigan State’s near-comeback on Tuesday against No. 1 Kansas.
The optimistic approach says it shows what the Spartans are made of, nearly erasing a 17-point deficit and cutting it to a one-possession game in the final minute before falling, 92-87, in the Champions Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The more pessimistic belief is the first-half woes that helped create the deficit shouldn’t be happening for a team that has the benefit of experience.
Count coach Tom Izzo among those who wasn’t exactly touting the way No. 10 Michigan State played in the second half.
“I wish it was 1998 and we could feel good about coming back like that,” Izzo said after practice on Thursday. “I feel bad about how we played at the beginning. I didn’t really enjoy the comeback.”
What bothered Izzo was the turnovers coupled with poor free-throw shooting. By the time the game ended, Michigan State had handed the ball away 18 times, which led to 20 Kansas points while the Spartans missed 12 free throws.
Why a team starting two seniors and three juniors had those sort of issues is tough to gauge.
“Energy, a little passion, taking care of the ball, making free throws,” Izzo said when asked what was missing the first 20 minutes. “We weren’t playing as hard.”
It turned around in the second half, especially down the stretch.
“We were turnover-free and played harder,” Izzo said. “We were 9 of 10 (from the free-throw line) and we moved the ball and I thought we had good shots. But they had 20 points off turnovers. That’s a killer right there because most of those points were layups.
“Our defense was probably better. I didn’t have a lot of complaints about some of it, I just think we didn’t follow the game plan and that’s my fault.”
The key this Sunday when Michigan State hosts Florida Gulf Coast at 6 p.m. at Breslin Center is beginning the game with the energy the Spartans had in the second half against Kansas.
It might be tougher considering the environment won’t be the same, but the Spartans are committed to putting the poor start against the Jayhawks in the past.
“You’ve just got to come into the game with that focus,” junior guard Cassius Winston said. “Usually if you get off to a good start that carries all the way through. We’ve got to work on locking in from the very beginning of the game and carrying that through the whole game.”
If Michigan State does that, the turnovers — Izzo called them at a “disgusting level” against Kansas — will likely start to dwindle. It will be imperative for Michigan State to clean up those mistakes as well as shoot better from the line — a big focus at practice Thursday — over the next couple of weeks.
Sunday’s game against FGCU, followed by home games against Louisiana-Monroe and Tennessee Tech, provide enough time to do so before heading to the Las Vegas Invitational, where MSU will face No. 21 UCLA and potentially No. 8 North Carolina.
The matchup with Florida Gulf Coast might not be a piece of cake. The Eagles have some high-level transfers, including former Michigan big man Ricky Doyle, and that has Michigan State’s attention.
But the Spartans believe they’ll have taken a significant step by then.
“We’re ready,” Winston said. “We just want to show everybody that we learned from the last game and what they’re gonna see throughout the season will be totally different.”