Indianapolis – Michigan State lost on Saturday afternoon, but what it gained over three days at the Big Ten tournament might be just as valuable as playing Sunday for a championship might have been.
The Spartans were in a hole immediately against Purdue in the tournament semifinals, losing point guard Tyson Walker to an ankle injury less than three minutes into the game, then watching AJ Hoggard suffer a similar injury just 14 seconds later.
“To have two ankle injuries in 20 seconds to my two point guards was a tough situation,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
Walker tried to come back but couldn’t last while Hoggard gutted it out, playing a career-high 34 minutes and nearly willing the Spartans to a victory as they battled from 13 down in the second half, cutting the Purdue lead to one with just less than six minutes to play.
But the Boilermakers responded, getting two straight 3-pointers from Eric Hunter to pull away and secure the 75-70 victory at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, setting up Sunday’s tournament championship matchup with Iowa, which beat Indiana in the first semifinal.
BOX SCORE: Purdue 75, Michigan State 70
“I’m both disappointed and proud,” Izzo said. “I voice my opinion a lot of times when I’m disappointed in my team. I’m going to tell you I’m as proud of this team, what they did and I’m chomping at the bit to get to the NCAA Tournament.”
It’s a far different feeling than the Spartans (22-12) had a little more than a week ago. At that point, they had lost two in a row — blowouts at the hands of Michigan and Ohio State — and there was a concern the season would end with no final push, no patented Izzo run in the month of March.
But after grinding to a win over Maryland to close out the regular season, Michigan State came to Indianapolis and did the same thing to the Terrapins in the opener on Thursday before knocking off No. 2 seed and regular-season champion Wisconsin on Friday.
They nearly did it again against the third-seeded Boilermakers but are hardly feeling bad heading into next week’s NCAA Tournament.
More: Walker injury tough blow to Spartans in preparation for next week’s NCAA Tournament
“I think we learned a lot about ourselves up here fighting, proving people wrong a little bit,” Hoggard said. “I think we learned a lot. We’ve got to get back to the drawing board when we get back, see where we land (in the NCAA Tournament) and just try to get better so we can prepare for March Madness, as Coach said, and just continue to get better and rally each other, don’t get too down.
“I wanted this so bad for our seniors but we didn’t get it done tonight, so we’ve just kind of got to get back and get another shot at March.”
While Walker’s status is a concern — Izzo said there is no break in the ankle but is unsure how long he’ll be out — Hoggard’s play was one of many bright spots over the past three days.
On Saturday, Hoggard went a career-high 34 minutes, scoring 17 points and handing out 10 assists for the Spartans, who were playing in the Big Ten tournament semifinals for the 16th time in the 25-year history of the event. Gabe Brown added 16 points while Marcus Bingham was limited to nine after his career game on Friday.
“I was very pleased with AJ,” Izzo said. “He’s making progress. I think he learned something. I thought Marcus learned something last night.
“I was disappointed with a few things we did, but in general I thought we competed the whole time under circumstances that were a little tough with the point guard situation, especially in that first half. So I’m encouraged that we can move forward and hopefully use what we’ve done there, even at the end of the year, to see where we can go.”
And losing to Purdue is hardly a stain on the season as Michigan State looks to the NCAA Tournament.
Jaden Ivey scored 22 to lead the Boilermakers (27-6) while Trevion Williams had 15 and Zach Edey scored 11. Eric Hunter and Mason Gillis each scored 10 for the Boilermakers, who had 15 offensive rebounds and 22 second-chance points.
“I thought our guys, when they cut it to one, they really showed some grit, some character there to be able to make plays,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “Trevion made some really nice passes. Eric Hunter stepped up and made a couple huge threes in that stretch. I thought that was kind of the decisive run for us to help us push the lead back out and kind of keep it there.”
An 12-1 run in the first half was decisive for the Boilermakers, turning a tie game into a 25-14 lead with five minutes to play. Michigan State chipped away, even with Walker out and Hoggard hobbled, pulling within 27-20 and getting a chance to cut the deficit even more. But Brown misfired on an open 3-pointer as the Boilermakers took the seven-point lead to the locker room.
Purdue took control early in the second half, extending its lead to 43-30 on a jump hook from Williams with just more than five minutes gone. But Michigan State showed some life from there, scoring six in a row to trim the Boilermakers lead to seven with 13:32 left.
A Max Christie three later got Michigan State within three and after pulling within 49-43, the Spartans got a jumper from Malik Hall and a lob pass and dunk to Julius Marble to make it 49-47 with 9:30 to play. A 3-pointer from Gillis was answered by a Hoggard layup before Gillis put Purdue up 54-49 with a pair of free throws with 7:51 to play.
The Spartans eventually pulled within 57-56 after a Hoggard layup and a Brown 3-pointer. But Purdue answered with back-to-back 3-pointers from Hunter to extend the lead to 63-56 with 4:23 to play as Michigan State was unable to close the gap.
The Spartans now head to the NCAA Tournament for the 24th straight season. Where they’ll be seeded is anyone’s guess, but that will be revealed on Sunday night.
Wherever Michigan State stands, Izzo hopes what transpired in Indianapolis carries over.
“Who knows where we’ll be seeded, who cares where we’ll be seeded,” Izzo said. “I’ve lost as a 2 seed and, went to the Final Four as a 7 seed. So I guess nothing matters except us getting a little better.
“Right now the better team won. But this team’s going to get better in a week and we’re going to see if we can do some damage.”