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What We Learned: Duke Blue Devils 87, Michigan State Spartans 75

What can we takeaway from Michigan State’s loss to Duke on Tuesday night?

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, the Big Ten-ACC Challenge continued with a blockbuster matchup in East Lansing between the Michigan State Spartans and the Duke Blue Devils. While the game had lost a bit of its luster heading into tip thanks to some early season upsets, it still featured two national powers in an on-campus matchup. That’s something that’s pretty hard to complain about.

Early on, Duke came roaring out of the gates, thanks in large part to some rough Michigan State turnovers. The Blue Devils certainly contributed as well, but the Spartans really fueled the run. Vernon Carey was particularly impressive for Duke, finishing the night with 26 points and 11 rebounds. And while the Spartans were able to close things back up late in the first half, it just wasn’t meant to be. Duke ended up grabbing a 87-75 road win as Michigan State lost for the third time already this season.

So, what did we learn?

What We Learned:

1. Michigan State’s turnover issues are really just offensive issues.

Let’s not overreact to a few weeks and one game against an elite opponent. We’ve seen a variety of teams start slow out of the gate and build momentum over the course of the season. Michigan State and Purdue did it last year and teams like Michigan have done it as well over the last few years. Championships aren’t won in November.

With that said, Michigan State has some clear offensive issues, primarily with the team’s ball possession. The Spartans just can’t seem to hold onto the basketball. Duke built a significant first half lead and it was almost entirely built off Michigan State’s turnovers.

Duke’s defense certainly played a part in the turnovers, but a lot of it was Michigan State’s inability to create quality opportunities on offense. Sure, the team got out and ran in transition and Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman had their typical ball screen production, but there just wasn’t much else. When Winston and/or Tillman were on the bench or Duke could slow down the ball screens, Michigan State didn’t have an answer.

Whether Michigan State can find some other offensive options remains to be seen, but it will likely determine how things go moving forward. The Spartans need to find the Kenny Goins and Matt McQuaid’s of this team. Players like Rocket Watts and Aaron Henry need to step up in the weeks and months to come. We’ll see if it happens.

2. Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes.

This section will probably come as no surprise given the result, but Michigan State made so many mistakes on Tuesday night that added up over the course of the game. Not only in general offensive and defensive production, but the little things as well.

These mistakes included eight missed free throws, including some big ones. Those are especially notable when they occur in one-and-one situations. Tillman’s early fouls also forced him to the bench when things were still competitive.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that a few missed free throws cost Michigan State this game. However, these mistakes along with others, including some tough fouls and missed rebounds really added up over the night. Michigan State needs to improve on the mental side of things as well if this team is going to reach its goals.

3. There’s still plenty of time left.

In today’s sports world, people love to panic. Everything is “do or die” and indicative of bigger things to come. And while Tuesday night’s game was significant, it’s important not to overreact to one result. Michigan State is still a really good team. Yes, the Spartans got off to a slow start, but let’s not write this team off. Tom Izzo and his staff have more than enough time to get the ship back on course.

Just take a look at the schedule lying ahead for Michigan State. The team’s next five games come against teams outside the top 90 on KenPom. And the most difficult opponent (per KenPom) during that stretch (Rutgers) comes at home.

Oh, and the next three games after that? All at home.

The point here should be clear. Michigan State just went through a gauntlet. The Spartans will now get some time to lick their wounds, fix the mistakes, and grow. This is what Izzo loves to see in his squads. And don’t be shocked if the Spartans get on a big roll now.


It was a tough night for Michigan State and Spartan fans. Many were hoping the team could find a way to beat Duke at home. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the team’s night and the Blue Devils ended up coming away with one of the more impressive wins for any team this season. As a result, Michigan State drops to 5-3 overall.

Michigan State will now get a few days off before getting back in action on Sunday at home against Rutgers. That game will offer the Spartans another opportunity to add a top 100 win to the team’s resume.