March 22, 2012

Appling: 'I didn't know it would be like this'

PHOENIX - Keith Appling didn't know it was going to be like this.

Slumped over in Michigan State's somber locker-room, head bowed almost low enough to hide his red eyes, the sophomore guard seemed stunned by Louisville's defensive approach and intensity in a 57-44 loss at U.S. Airways Arena in a West Regional semi-final loss to end its season.

"You've got to give them credit, they turned us over a lot and put pressure on the ball," Appling said to a gathering of reporters around his locker. "They played harder than us tonight and came out with the win.

"We worked on their pressure all week and I thought we had a pretty good feel for it but apparently we didn't. I didn't expect for them to pressure us 94 feet like that. I sort of thought they'd show that pressure and then back up into a 2-3 zone. I have no idea if that [was the plan], but if it was it worked."

"You know what our press does a lot of times? It just wears people out," said Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. "We didn't really want to trap them. We wanted to run and jump to get to the legs. We said just turn them, just turn them, just turn them, because then he wouldn't have as much energy as he would other times.

"Against certain teams, we try to create steals or traps or rotate. Tonight we just tried to get into our zone, wear them out and neutralize the backboard."

For do-everything senior Draymond Green, a 5-of-16 performance from the field could have perhaps been salvaged in this low scoring, grind-it-out game in which both teams shot poorly from the field, but six costly turnovers - Michigan State had 15 in the game - caused by relentless extended ball pressure could not.

"They played their solid defense," Green said. "And we thought we were pretty well prepared for it. It's not our coach's fault. I think they gave us a great game plan. At the end of the day, players play, and we didn't, we just didn't execute well."

"Our whole focus wasn't on Draymond, just on the team itself," said Louisville power forward Chane Behanan. "We did talk about Draymond, how we had to limit his touches and try to stay in front of him. He's a heck of a player. Once we did that, I think we took control of the game. He started getting fouls and we just ran up and down the court and tried to tire him out, try to do our best we can to put a body on him."

No Second Chance

Even when the Spartans did get looks at the rim, they were generally well contested. Follow-up opportunities were few and far between. Until well into the second half, Michigan State didn't have a second chance basket.

Meanwhile Louisville had two 3-pointers off of second-chance opportunities.

It was that combination of post-area defense and rebounding, coupled with the extended swarming defense that ultimately proved too much to overcome, with Louisville's Gorgui Dieng using his 7-foot-4 wingspan to block seven shots and collect nine rebounds.

"I didn't think he hit it as much the first half," Izzo said of Dieng's presence. "The second half he really did. We wanted to go inside more. He did a great job. But we were really out of sync, we didn't get it in, get it out and back in, all the things we had worked on.

"But he is what he is. He's not a 3-point shooter, and he made one of those. So it was a pretty good night for him. He is a shot blocker. He got those couple at the end and did a good job, he
really did."

A number of times in the second half, Michigan State cut into Louisville's lead to make it a two or three possession game, only to see an offensive trip come up empty, or worse, result in a turnover that enabled a Cardinal basket going the other direction.

Asked whether the result was a bittersweet one given all that had been accomplished in the season by the Big Ten Champions, Izzo toed the line.

"Well, it's hard to feel good and hard to feel bad," Izzo said. "It's hard to feel good because I don't think we had anybody that played at all like they played in the last three weeks. But it's hard to feel bad because Louisville deserved it. They outboarded us. They took it at us pretty good. And every time they cut the lead, they brought it up."

Junior Derrick Nix said Michigan State was rarely out-worked or out-physicalled this season, but for at least a night, Louisville appeared to want it more.

"They might have played a little harder than we did and [Louisville's Chase Behanan] was always there to get a score or a rebound when they needed it," Nix said.

Louisville's victory avenged a loss to Michigan State in the 2009 Regional finals. Louisville was a No. 1 seed on the day. This time, MSU went down as a No. 1 seed.

"That Louisville team was more talented, but this one played harder," Izzo said.

Izzo complained that his team was low on gas, "mentally, physically and emotionally.

"I think we were fried," Izzo said. "We didn't have a good practice on Monday, and could only go for about an hour because we had just had that game (against Saint Louis) the day before. Then we came out here and I wasn't crazy with the way we prepared.

"I thought we were mentally fatigued today and maybe that was almost too much time. You're in the hotel, you're not going to class. For my team, I really have to look at myself when I get back, and say next year, the year after, how am I going to handle it differently?

This is one of those games when I don't think we had one guy play really well, and I'm not saying we did as good a job as coaches. So we grew together, we won together, we had fun together. Today we cried together. Because you couldn't even look at one guy or blame one guy; collectively we just didn't get it done."

Green Addressed The Team

If there was a running theme in amongst Michigan State's players following the loss other than being impressed by Louisville at the defensive end, it was an expression of gratitude toward seniors Green, Austin Thornton and Brandon Wood.

Green addressed the team before heading to the media hub to be interviewed with his coach at the podium.

"He just told us it's one of those things and we did the best we could," Nix said. "We had a really good season and gave it our best and have nothing to be ashamed of.

"We accomplished a lot as far as winning the Big Ten and winning the (Big Ten) Tournament and reaching the Sweet 16 and building this program back up to where it needs to be (after a fourth place finish in the league and first-round NCAA Tournament exist last season). We can't ask for more than we did. We fought and fought and fought today, but they just fought harder. I think that's what it came down to."

Payne said it will be hard to turn the page, but the relationships established will carry on well into the future.

"We appreciate what the seniors have done and the coaching staff and what we were able to accomplish this year as far as bouncing back from last year," Payne said. "It's real tough because we all had a special bond and relationship with each other.

"I'm sure we'll all be able to get in contact with each other, talk to one another, Skype, whatever it is, we'll be there for each other and just be a phone call away."

Notes

  • Green recorded his 22nd double-double of the season and third straight in NCAA Tournament play with 13 points and 16 rebounds.

  • Its 44 point and .286 shooting effort from the field were both program-lows in NCAA Tournament history for Michigan State.

  • Michigan State's loss is its first under Izzo as a No. 1 seed prior to reaching the Final Four

  • Green was the only Spartan to have more than one field goal in the first half, as the team went 6 of 22 from the field in the period.


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