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Michigan State Basketball: An abrupt end to promising run

There’s nothing to be ashamed of here.

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Michigan State basketball
© Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan State basketball suffered an abrupt end to what looked to be a promising run on Thursday night against Kansas State.

You never quite know exactly when you’re in the middle of witnessing greatness. Sometimes, you don’t realize it until after the fact. Other times, you’ve convinced yourself beforehand that whatever you’re about to see will be just that. And then there are times like Thursday night. Times when it’s so obvious, that it doesn’t need to be said. It just needs to be appreciated. Kansas State and Michigan State basketball put on a display of excellence at Madison Square Garden on Thursday evening. It was a display so grand that it feels downright foolish to tag anyone as a loser.

But this is sports. And somebody has to lose.

That somebody was Michigan State. No, the Spartans did not get blown off the court. They did not blow a big lead. It wasn’t a lack of execution or a lack of trying. They just got beat. That’s going to happen.

But that’s what is so difficult about this result. For MSU and its fans, in this tournament, when the Spartans are playing at their best, they win. When Michigan State elevates its game to another level — at any point in any season — few can play with them. For this 2022-23 group, we didn’t get a taste of that ceiling until this tournament. As we learned, it was good enough to keep playing – possibly into next weekend.

Under Tom Izzo, Michigan State has prided itself on being tougher than everyone else. That toughness, combined with this program’s culture, has raised the level of play in March for this program.

On Thursday night, though, there was one guy in purple that was just a little bit tougher. Markquis Nowell was the difference. He put together a game and a stat line that will go down in March Madness lore. Each highlight was just as impressive as the last. Between his prolific passing, clutch shot-making, and toughness, he was the difference. In most team sports, the impact of one player is mitigated by what the rest of the team can provide. Basketball is the exception. One player can carry a team.

It’s the other side of March Madness. For all of the upsets, Cinderella runs, and buzzer-beaters, there is a team on the other side that goes home. The Spartans have been on the right side of so many of those runs over the years. It’s what has created a standard that is higher at Michigan State than just about everywhere else. People expect Final Fours. With Michigan State’s coaches, players, resources, and commitment to the program, it’s a fair expectation.

But as fans, alumni, and supporters of the program, the best you can ask for is relentless effort, dedication, and passion. This group checked all of those boxes. Just 13 days ago, they looked lifeless as they bowed out of the Big Ten Tournament against a sub .500 Ohio State team. They responded by playing their best basketball of the season with a renewed sense of urgency.

Historically, that sense of urgency combined with their talent and coaching has been enough to propel Michigan State deep into this tournament. On Thursday, it wasn’t quite enough. And that’s okay, too.

This program is beyond claiming moral victories. This certainly wasn’t one of them, regardless. The season is over, and Michigan State will be left watching the rest of this tournament wondering “what if”? But they’ll do so wondering more about their opponent’s “what if” than their own. Kansas State won this game. Michigan State did not lose it. The Spartans lost because this is a sport in America, where there are no draws (sorry soccer fans). There are no third-place games or do-overs. You simply go home.

So as Michigan State basketball goes home, it’ll undoubtedly be frustrated. Their dreams were right in front of them. Right there for the taking. The Spartans took their opportunity and ran with it. Kansas State chased them down and took it right back. Devastating. No doubt. But that’s sports. That’s life. When your best is beaten by someone else’s best, you tip your cap and move on.

Saying that doesn’t make it any easier. Believing it won’t change the outcome. That’s what comes with the territory of playing in the second weekend of this tournament. Single elimination. Winners and losers. Michigan State, for a change, had to play the role of loser.

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