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Shawn Windsor | Detroit Free Press | November 15, 2017

Spartans have talent to win it all. What about the temperament?

Michigan State Basketball: Jaren Jackson Jr. | Newcomer Spotlight

CHICAGO -- Tom Izzo has lost a lot of games to Duke. This is one he could've won. Maybe should've won.

Which helps explain his anger Tuesday night at the United Center after his Spartans lost to the Blue Devils, 88-81, in the Champions Classic.

"I thought it was a golden chance. I am sick of losing to them," he said.

He should be. Especially when he rolls into a gym with equal talent. That hasn't happened often when Izzo meets Mike Krzyzewski. The iconic Duke coach usually has the better players.

Not Tuesday night. And that's what stings.

His guys had a chance. Up two with 4 minutes to play. Duke missing its most gifted player, Marvin Bagley III, who got poked in eye by a teammate in the first half. Miles Bridges hitting 3s. The Spartan-heavy crowd ready to help their team perform an exorcism.

RELATED: Grayson Allen's 37 points propel Blue Devils over Spartans

And then?

An offensive rebound by Duke's Wendell Carter Jr. and put back dunk. A tentative, clanking, mid-range bank-shot by MSU's grad transfer, Ben Carter. Another offensive rebound from Duke's Carter, followed by a kickout 3 from Gary Trent Jr., a shooting guard that Izzo recruited hard.

All in 61 torturous seconds. At least from Izzo's view. Mostly because his Spartans had given up five more second chance points on a night when they gave up 25 offensive rebounds.

In fact, the next time Duke got the ball, they grabbed another rebound, which led to a dagger 3-pointer from Grayson Allen, the senior shooting guard who's the best villain in college basketball, but who also plays with the kind of dastardly edge that was often missing from the Spartans.

"I'm embarrassed, to be honest with you," said Izzo, fuming from the post-game dais. "Never in a million years did I think we'd get outrebounded like that."

What really hurt is that Izzo built his program doing to other teams what Duke did to him Tuesday night. As he pointed out, the Blue Devils usually beat him by making jump shots. Or snaking to the rim. And while Allen drained a handful of killer 3s down the stretch, it was how he got them that left Izzo shaking his head.

This Duke team won with toughness.

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"Smash-mouth," Izzo called it.

Consider: The Spartans held Duke to 39 percent shooting. So often, they played sound -- often inspired -- positional defense and then watched the ball carom back into the hands of a Blue Devil.

Sometimes this happened because MSU's guards were too eager to leak out on the break, and the rebounds fell into the spaces they'd vacated too soon. Sometimes it happened because the big guys didn't box out, or battle.

Offensive rebounds, particularly when they come in the sort of concussive way they did Tuesday, can grind a team's will. So can a trapping, 2-3 zone.

Which Krzyzewski kept his team in all night, save for one possession. The Duke coach knew his team couldn't keep up with the Spartans' size and athleticism if it were free to run its man-to-man sets. That's a compliment, of sorts, and an admission that, at least this season, Izzo has the roster -- and depth -- to matchup.

His strategy worked early, as MSU missed its first five 3s. But it worked better late, when Bridges and Cassius Winston grew weary, or impatient, and shimmied into the zone's creases without a plan.

The uncertainty led to a few deadly turnovers, which led to run-outs the other way.

"We hurt ourselves," said Winston, who finished with five turnovers against 11 assists. "Most of the mistakes were kind of self-inflicted."

Almost to a man, you could hear the defiance in the Spartans' locker room. They knew they'd helped Duke out -- a team, and program, that rarely needs it. Lapses in poise and big-stage competitiveness hurt.

"Sometimes I went overboard with that and turned it over," admitted Bridges. "But I want to help my team win."

Michigan State Basketball: Jaren Jackson Jr. | Newcomer Spotlight

He wanted to match Allen's shotmaking as well. That's why -- in part -- he returned to East Lansing. To play on a stage like this. To help the coach he loves upend his long-time nemesis.

To do that, and for Bridges to take the leap so many expect, he'll have to find his way in the late moments, and find the balance between making a shot and making a play for someone else. Because this team's got options.

He knows it. Izzo knows it, too.

That's why, in a locker room full of defiance, no one sounded more defiant than the head coach. This shouldn't surprise anyone who's followed Izzo's two-plus decades at MSU.

He pushes. He prods. He broods. He builds. In that way, this year will be like every other.

Except that he's got as much to work with as he's ever had, including a long and impossibly talented freshman big man in Jaren Jackson Jr, whose easy 19 points Tuesday suggests an hefty ceiling.

"He's going to be a helluva player," said Izzo.

He's also another reason Izzo thought it was finally going to be his turn. Which means it will be a while before he stops thinking about those last 4 minutes Tuesday night, when Duke outmuscled and out-toughed his young and talented team.

"Twelfth game and can't win many," he said, referring to his 1-11 record against Duke. "I'm so sick of it."

This article is written by Shawn Windsor from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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