My Two Cents: No One Immune from Beatings on the Road, even Tom Izzo


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Tom Izzo and Matt Painter have been doing battle for 15 years now, and they've had some memorable fights. Sunday's knockout wasn't one of them.

Purdue boat-raced Izzo's Michigan State Spartans 71-42 in front of a national TV audience, dominating from the opening tip and never letting up on Izzo's team, which came into the game a perfect 5-0 in the Big Ten and ranked No. 8 in the country.

"I'm embarrassed. I feel embarrassed for our fans, for our team, for our staff. That was probably the worst beating that I have taken as a coach,'' the Michigan State coach said. "Let’s give 80 percent of the credit to Purdue. Hats off to Purdue. They've been through some tough times too, but they played great today. 

"I thought Matt did a hell of a job. You're just disappointed to play that way on national TV and in front a big crowd like that. When you get beat like this, you've got to do a better job of coaching too.''

Izzo shouldn't feel too bad because it's been happening to everyone. His ball club was just the latest. Purdue lost by 26 at Illinois last Sunday — and then won by 29 this Sunday, a 55-point swing.

This weekend alone, four of the Big Ten's ranked teams went on the road against unranked opponents, and all four lost. No. 11 Ohio State lost by 12 at Indiana, No. 12 Maryland lost by 18 at Iowa and No. 19 Michigan lost at Minnesota by 8. 

Do that math. Those four losses are by a combined 67 points, nearly 17 a game. And that's against the unranked teams in the very big middle of the conference. Winning on the road is that hard. 

"Either everyone is getting up for us or we're not showing up for big games,'' said Izzo. "If you look at a couple of those stats (outrebounded 35-32, which never happens, and a turnover disparity of 18-6), the game should have been what it was, a butt-kicking.''

Home teams are 32-5 in the Big Ten season, which is amazing. Home court advantage is very real.

"One thing that's going on in our league, like us, we all of a sudden have a lot of rookies playing. A lot of people have a lot of sophomores and freshmen playing,'' Izzo said. "Playing young kids, maybe that's an excuse. You've got to be mentally tough and physically tough, especially the young guys, but that's not easy to do.

"Our league is the worst because our league is the best. I can't stand using that as an excuse because our teams are usually pretty tough. Maybe I've underestimated how tough we are.''

Purdue was in total control Sunday, right from the opening tip. It was 19-4 before you knew it and Mackey Arena was on fire. It never got better for the Spartans, who got no closer than 11 points midway through the second half before losing by 29, its worst beating of the year. 

That was their lowest point total of the season, and their lowest shooting totals, overall (35.3 percent) and from 3-point range (12.5 percent)

Most shocking was how well Purdue contained Cassius Winston, the best point guard in the Big Ten. He scored only 10 points and made nine turnovers. 

"Give them credit. They were a little desperate after what happened at Illinois and Michigan,'' Izzo said. "Give Matt a lot of credit for how they played. That was very Gene Keady-ish. Today Batman (Winston) was pedestrian-like. I'm not worried about Cassius. He had a bad day but he'll be great going forward. 

"We knew that was going to happen, those guys jumping things on Cassius. They always do that, since Gene. Cassius didn't throw it back enough, Xavier (Tillman) didn't do much. You want to copy it, go ahead, but you better do it with guys that played as hard as they did today. We'll be ready for it.''

Izzo and Painter are the elder statesmen in the Big Ten these days, which still seems a little shocking. They've been fighting each other for 15 years now, and they've played a lot of huge games with a lot at stake. Izzo knew he'd get Purdue's best shot on Sunday, and he did. 

"I don't think they could have played much better. That was one of the best games they played all year,'' Izzo said. "Those are two teams that have played for a lot the past 10 years, and we'll be playing for a lot again later too.''

Purdue was nearly perfect, especially early, and Painter knows that's the best formula to beat a team like Michigan State. Playing mistake-free basketball takes away a lot of what the Spartans like to do in the open court.

"When you can take care of the basketball, that's really going to help you. We only had one turnover in the first half, and they didn't have any transition baskets because of it,'' Painter said. "When you can limit them on the glass and in transition, you have a chance. We did that today. We got great production all across the board.''

As big as it was for Purdue to only have six turnovers all day, it was even bigger to force 18 from the Spartans, something that just doesn't happen. That's six more than what the Spartans usually have, and Winston hasn't turned it over more than five times in any game this season. He's turned it over nine times only once before during his brilliant four-year career in East Lansing.

"We just wanted to be as active as we could,'' Painter said. "Cassius had nine turnovers, which is very rare. We have the upmost respect for him and how he can control a game. I thought today we were able to wear him down a little bit. We had active hands, and they never really quite got in a rhythm offensively. I thought Eric Hunter did a nice job on him.''

And that's the way it goes in the Big Ten. Even Izzo thought so. "Cassius probably won't have nine turnovers in our next five games,'' he said. "Purdue just got us today.''

Yep, Purdue, that home team. 

Travelers beware.

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