Michigan State basketball is in big trouble.
Forget about a fourth straight Big Ten regular-season title — the Spartans haven’t even won a conference game. And they look progressively worse on defense and increasingly lost on offense as the New Year arrives.
No. 24 Minnesota buried No. 18 MSU by building a 20-point halftime lead Monday night in Minneapolis and sustaining it late to send the Spartans to their third straight defeat to open Big Ten play, 81-56 — the largest margin of victory ever by the Gophers over MSU.
It is just the second time in coach Tom Izzo’s 26 seasons that MSU has opened league play with three straight defeats. The only other time came in 2001-02, when the Spartans finished fifth in the Big Ten by winning 10 of their final 13 regular-season games. However, they got bounced from the first round of the NCAA tournament by North Carolina State.
Izzo has never had an 0-4 start in the conference. MSU (6-3, 0-3) travels to Nebraska on Saturday; the Cornhuskers (4-5, 0-2) play Wednesday night at Ohio State.
How bad was this loss?
If Izzo felt the defeat at Northwestern to open Big Ten play was “inept” and “awful,” Minnesota will leave him searching for family-friendly words to describe the debacle.
The Spartans looked lethargic on defense as the Gophers shot 44.8% and got easy looks inside with a lack of help defense. They got punished on the boards. They airballed layups and shot just 25.7% for the game. They threw passes that grazed their own rim, sendingthe ball in the other direction in transition with the Gophers (9-1, 2-1).
MSU trailed 36-16 at halftime, its lowest-scoring half since Dec. 30, 2014, when the Spartans had just 14 points in the first half against Maryland. They only trailed by three in that game, though, and eventually forced double overtime before losing to the Terps, 68-66.
MSU went 7:10 without scoring in the opening half, one of a number of long stretches without a bucket. The Gophers used 7-footer Liam Robbins’ height and toughness in the post, as he had 12 of his 18 points and five of his nine rebounds in the opening period.
Marcus Carr scored a game-high 19 points
Meantime, MSU’s experienced players looked lost.
Izzo started Foster Loyer over Aaron Henry, moving Rocket Watts to shooting guard and Joshua Langford to the wing, with Joey Hauser and Thomas Kithier inside. They allowed the first nine points of the game.
MSU shot a horrific 6-for-38 in the first half, missing 10 of 12 3-point attempts. Things did not get much better after halftime, though the Spartans did hit 37.5% overall in the second half.
Henry finished 3-for-10 shooting for a team-high 11 points, and added four rebounds and three assists. Freshman A.J. Hoggard had nine points on 4-for-9 shooting.
No other MSU player reached double figures in scoring. The remaining Spartan veterans put together putrid performances: Langford was 2-for-10 for five points, Hauser went 1-for-8 for just six points, Watts was 1-for-9 for two points. Gabe Brown missed all five of his shots.
Kithier had a team-high seven rebounds as the Spartans got dominated on the glass, 52-36.