By Joe Rexrode
EAST LANSING — If the first glimpse is any indication, Michigan State needs to wake up quickly from its dream week of sports.
Tom Izzo’s top-ranked men’s basketball team started it off Wednesday night against North Carolina at Breslin Center, with a men’s soccer Elite Eight game, women’s volleyball NCAA tournament opener and the main event – the football team against Ohio State for the Big Ten championship Saturday in Indianapolis – still to come.
The unranked Tar Heels crushed the idea of a weeklong party, exploiting MSU inside and running away with a 79-65 victory in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
“We looked like a softer team,” a dejected Izzo said afterward, “and that solely falls on me, no one else.”
That makes it seven straight wins for Roy Williams’ Tar Heels over Izzo’s Spartans, starting with a victory in the 2005 Final Four. This was supposed to be the streak stopper for MSU (7-1), but the Spartans never led and had hobbled players all over the floor by the end of it.
MSU VS. NORTH CAROLINA: Key stretch, unsung hero “My players have played better on game days than his players have — that’s the bottom line,” Williams said when asked to explain his success against Izzo. “I’m not a better coach than he is. … sometimes we’ve had more talent too.”
That wasn’t supposed to be the case this season. Suddenly, Izzo has a team that will lose its No. 1 ranking after three weeks, with no marquee games left until Big Ten play begins.
He has a sophomore shooting guard in Gary Harris (team-high 17 points) whose right ankle appears to be such an issue, Harris missed two point-blank opportunities at the rim in the second half.
And he has a team that can’t play much interior defense unless sophomore center Matt Costello is in the game. Costello had to come off the bench because of what Izzo said is a possible case of mononucleosis, and his gutsy effort was a bright spot on a night with other health issues.
“You want to praise one guy, that’d be the guy to praise,” Izzo said of Costello, who had six points, four blocks and four rebounds in 17 minutes, and who may be affected for “weeks,” Izzo said, by what he termed a “minor” case of mono.
Keith Appling (13 points) left for part of the first half after a scary spill and shot to the hip. He returned and was clearly affected by the hip at times. Adreian Payne (16 points) cramped multiple times in the second half, and Izzo said his ongoing issues with plantar fasciitis are limiting his practice time and conditioning.