NEW YORK -- On the eve of Super XLVIII across the Hudson River, two college basketball heavyweights went toe-to-toe at Madison Square Garden.
Playing without two of their top four scorers (Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson), who also happen to be the Spartans' two leading rebounders, Michigan State managed a split this week -- winning at No. 15 Iowa on Tuesday before losing on Saturday.
And don’t be fooled by the Hoyas’ record -- they had lost five in a row, but that includes games against No. 9 Villanova, No. 20 Creighton, at Xavier and an overtime loss to Marquette. They’re better than you might think.
"Disappointing but not upsetting," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said to open his postgame news conference. "I know John Thompson [III]. I know his teams. They’re tough, they play hard and they lost some games that I didn’t think they should have lost."
That being said, Izzo did have plenty of criticism for his own squad. "Today, we got out-toughed; we really did. We got thrown around on the boards. We got posted up," Izzo said. "I thought they manhandled us."
Michigan State led 30-29 at halftime despite shooting just 11-for-27 from the field (40.7 percent). But Georgetown went in front for good less than 30 seconds into the second half on a 3-pointer by Reggie Cameron.
The Hoyas never led by more than eight, and the Spartans cut it to two at 56-54 on a Gary Harris 3-pointer with 1:32 left. But on the next possession, Jabril Trawick followed up a Markel Starks miss to push the lead back to four, and Georgetown put the game away from there.
Michigan State shot just 21-for-53 for the game (39.6 percent), 9-for-16 from the foul line and was outrebounded 37-30. The Spartans were 30th in Division I in rebounds per game coming in.
Harris agreed with his coach’s assessment. "They were out-toughing us to get rebounds," he said. "In the end, that cost us the game."
Harris scored a game-high 20 points, 17 of which came in the second half, but he did miss some wide-open looks.
"I was surprised how bad we played, myself included," he said. "I played horrible in the first half. I can’t let that happen, especially coming into a game like this."
Izzo and his players have every right to be disappointed. It was a much-hyped matchup, played on a big stage.
And Thompson had every right to be excited, though he chuckled when told about Izzo’s "manhandled" comment.
"I don’t know about that. But you’re not going to beat Michigan State, or any team in the Big East, if you aren’t physically tough," Thompson said. "Traditionally down through the years, [Izzo’s] teams have been one of the more physical teams in the country, and so I thought we met the challenge today."
Izzo’s team will be far more challenging once Payne (16.2 points per game, 7.7 rebounds per game) returns from a foot injury. Izzo said Payne is expected to return to practice Monday. He could play Thursday night against Penn State.
Getting Payne back is far more important than a nonconference game against Georgetown, even if it was Super Saturday in New York.