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Notre Dame Basketball

Slow Starts Hinders Irish In 81-63 Loss

November 30, 2017

A bad first half doomed the Irish on Thursday night in East Lansing as the Michigan State Spartans delivered a humbling 81-63 loss to the Irish in the Big Ten/ACC challenge, giving them their first loss of the season.

The fifth-ranked Irish dropped to 6-1 while the third-ranked Spartans improved to 6-1.

The Spartans shot 52.5 percent from the field, including 42.9 from three-point range. Josh Langford and Cassius Winston led the Spartans with 17 points. The Irish shot 44.4 percent, 52 percent in the second half but were unable to pull off the comeback. Bonzie Colson led the team with 17 points.

“They’re really good," stated Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey. "They’re as good as anyone in the country. We learned a little bit about our group. Hats off to them. They were really ready to play.

"What an unbelievable home atmosphere here. They do a great job."

A three-pointer by Jaren Jackson put the Spartan lead back up to 11 with less than ten minutes to play. A quick lay-up by Nick Ward extended the lead to 12 with under eight minutes to go as he continued his strong night for the Spartans.

A straightaway three from Winston got the Spartan crowd going as they had been quiet in the second half up to that point. An alley-oop to Miles Bridges sent the Irish into a timeout, down 68-53 with 5:59 remaining. The Irish picked a bad time to go nearly five minutes without a made field goal until Matt Farrell knocked down a three-pointer out of the timeout.

Another three from Colson cut the lead down to ten as the Irish looked to make one last attempt at a comeback. A corner three by Winston gave the Spartans a 15 point lead with 3:37 remaining which essentially iced the game as the Irish were unable to get much closer.

"We have a tough group," stated Brey. "They’re really poised. They talked about making a run at halftime. There weren’t a whole lot of things I needed to say. Colson and Farrell set the tone. I love how they prepare and how they talk. We made the run, but we couldn’t get over the hump."

“When they come at you with fresh bodies, they just keep coming. That really takes it a toll.”

The Spartans never trailed in their wire to wire victory.

Rex Pflueger opened the second half with a three-pointer, and a layup by Martinas Geben cut the Spartan lead to 15 just ninety seconds into the half. A tough bucket by Colson gave him double digits in the game as the Irish crept closer. A 12-2 run by the Irish got the lead down to ten with 16:35 left in the game.

Pflueger ended the night with a career-high 15 points on 6-of-7 from the field.

A step back by Colson cut the lead to single digits before Bridges answered right back. The lead fell to seven after a jumper by Farrell with about 13 minutes to play. With 11:29 left to play, the Spartans remained in the lead, 57-46. A three-pointer in transition by Pflueger cut the lead to eight as the Irish tried once again to mount a comeback with ten minutes to play.

With 11 points in the game, T.J. Gibbs hit double-digits for the fourth time this season. He had just five such games last season.

The Spartans got out to an early 9-2 lead after a couple of shots got the crowd going including a block on the defensive end which led to a Bridges alley-oop jam. Pflueger stopped the run with a corner three-pointer. A three by Bridges, got the lead up to nine as the Spartan crowd got even louder. The Spartans held a 14-8 advantage at the first TV timeout of the game with 15:40 to play in the first half.

"My worst fear was them getting off to a great start because when they do that in this building it’s a heck of an uphill climb," said Brey. "They really got off to a great start. As much as you practice transition defense, you can’t simulate how they get down the floor." 

A pull-up jumper from Jackson gave the Spartans their first double-digit lead of the game at 18-8. Back to back shots from Langford upped the lead to 14 as the Irish continued to struggle from the field. The lead ballooned to 27-11 as the Spartans shooting percentage rose to 68 percent.

A few free throws by Langford gave the Spartans a 31-11 lead at the midway point of the half. More of the same continued in the next few minutes, but some of the Irish shots started to fall. The Spartan lead was 39-20 with 4:39 to play before the half.

A three-pointer by Winston put the lead at 22 as the Irish defense couldn’t buy a stop. The Spartan lead was 20 at the half, 46-26 shooting 51.4 percent compared to 37.9 perfect for the Irish. Langford led the Spartans with 12 points at the half, the Irish were led by Gibbs and his 11 points.

Player of the Game: Langford. The sophomore guard set the tone for the game and was one of the main reasons for the Spartans jumping out to a 20 point halftime lead.

Unsung Hero: Despite being one of seven from downtown, Miles Bridges had a solid all-around game with 14 points, six rebounds, and four assists.

Up Next: The Irish will travel back home on Sunday to face off against St. Francis Brooklyn at 2 P.M.

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