July 19, 2024

Tom Izzo loses to nephew as No. 4 MSU drops opener to JMU


After No. 4 Michigan State fell to James Madison 79-76 on Monday in East Lansing, coach Tom Izzo said he might make changes that could impact his team’s starting lineup.

Entering the overtime affair, James Madison had been a plus-16.5 point underdog, according to ESPN BET.

But Michigan State recorded a 1-for-20 clip from the 3-point line and a 23-for-37 mark from the free throw line. While Tyson Walker finished with 35 points on 12-for-26 shooting (0-for-5 from the 3-point line), the rest of the roster connected on just 14 of 46 attempts from the field.

A.J. Hoggard, Malik Hall, Mady Sissoko and Jaden Akins — the other four Michigan State starters, all of whom are upperclassmen — finished 8-for-36 overall.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Michigan State is the first Associated Press top-5 team to lose its season opener at home against an unranked opponent since Kentucky lost at home to Western Kentucky in 2001. Also, Izzo entered Monday’s game with a 21-7 record in season openers, per Michigan State.

“I don’t have a good answer why three juniors and seniors played like they played, but I also don’t care, because I’ll play some freshmen then,” said Izzo, who welcomed a top 10 recruiting class this season, according to ESPN rankings. “Let the controversy begin.”

The holidays could be somewhat awkward for Izzo, as well, after this loss. His nephew, Matt Bucklin, is an assistant at James Madison, a Sun Belt program that won its second-ever game over a ranked opponent after losing 42 of its previous 43 matchups, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Bucklin’s mother, Mary, is Izzo’s sister. Izzo booked James Madison for its season opener in part because of his nephew’s role with the team.

Michigan State had not lost a home game in the month of November since David Robinson — the Basketball Hall of Famer who starred for the San Antonio Spurs — led Navy to a 91-90 overtime win over the Spartans in 1986. The program had not lost a season opener in East Lansing since 1970.

Izzo said he makes his team shoot free throws the night before every game. On Sunday night, the Spartans made 90% of their attempts from the charity stripe, he said. But just 24 hours later, the team connected on just 62% of its attempts.

“I give [James Madison] a lot of credit,” Izzo said. “They came in here and they played harder than us. They played stronger than us. Made some good plays. We got into foul trouble early. That hurt us. We missed all those free throws early. That hurt us. You go 1-for-20 from the [3-point line]. How do you go 23-of-37 from the free throw line?”

Terrence Edwards Jr. led James Madison with 24 points.

T.J. Bickerstaff (21 points) hit a game-tying shot with 30 seconds to play in regulation. In overtime, Raekwon Horton connected on a 3-pointer to extend James Madison’s lead to 78-74 with 10 seconds to play. Michael Green III’s steal on Walker at the buzzer sealed the victory for the Dukes.

James Madison head coach Mark Byington said his team, which made 75% of its free throw attempts, was resilient throughout the game.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Byington said on Big Ten Network after the win. “It was our first game and we’re playing against one of the best teams in the country, in one of the best environments in the country. And I was proud of our guys. … They just never gave in.”

Two of James Madison’s starters, Noah Freidel and Julien Wooden, fouled out late, but the Dukes turned to their bench to seal the win.

“Some of our more dependable, trustworthy guys got into foul trouble,” Byington said. “Everybody, when they came in, they were able to step up. They were able to make plays.”

Prior to the season, Izzo said the Big Ten deserved scrutiny for its failure to win a national championship since he achieved the feat with the Spartans during the 1999-2000 season. Michigan State has been viewed as a national title contender after returning four starters from a team that reached the Sweet 16 last season.

Xavier Booker, an ESPN five-star recruit, anchors an elite freshman class that could play a bigger role going forward.

“I hope [the team] responds by being ticked off,” Izzo said. “There will be some adjustments.”

James Madison isn’t the only team that scored an upset on opening day.

Princeton, a 5.5-point underdog per ESPN BET, won at Rutgers 68-61. Oklahoma State, a 10.5-point favorite per ESPN BET, suffered a 64-59 home loss to Abilene Christian, which finished 13-17 overall and 5-11 in the Western Athletic Conference last season.

And Oakland covered the spread in a 79-73 loss at Ohio State. The Grizzlies were a 19.5-point underdog on the road against the Buckeyes, per ESPN BET.

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