EAST LANSING — I don’t know what the Spartans and Wolverines did after their big game Tuesday. I know what they should have done. Gotten the keys to a gym. Turned on the lights. And practiced free throws all night.
And after that, practiced free throws all morning.
Lunch, more free throws.
Dinner, more free throws.
For dessert, they could work on inbounds plays.
“We didn’t shoot well, and we didn’t make our free throws,” Jud Heathcote said after the Spartans remained winless at home in conference play, losing, 73-69, at the Breslin Center. “I thought if we just could have gotten ahead, we could have won.”
Hmmm. Is that Jud, or Yogi Berra?
Now, OK. I want to be nice here. I know that, now and then, teams have off-nights at the stripe. But come on, 10-for-23. There’s a reason they’re called “free” throws, and not “expensive” throws. Not only did the Spartans miss Tuesday, they often made music in doing so.
Clank! Clunk! Whooo-ooop! Boing! Whoooops! Cachung! Give the Spartans credit: They came up with more ways for a ball not to go in a hole than golfer Bernhard Langer when he had the yips.
How bad was their charity shooting? Dwayne Stephens took four, made one. Eric Snow — who otherwise played a wonderful game — took nine, made four.
“What was with the free throw shooting?” someone asked Mike Peplowski, who missed five of his eight tries, some of them with all the grace of Hulk Hogan playing cricket. “Why does a team go so cold like that?”
Peplowski sighed and pointed to his head, suggesting concentration. “It’s all between the ears,” he said.
Actually, that was the only place the ball didn’t land. Put it this way: If the Spartans had made half the free throws they missed, they would have won.
Only one player, Shawn Respert, was perfect. He took two free throws; he sank two free throws.
Unfortunately, he was 2-of-14 from the field.
So I don’t think Shawn gets a game ball. Bad timing didn’t help
“I’m so confused right now, I don’t know how to explain it,” Peplowski said. You feel bad for this big fella, who has always worn his emotions on his face. He was no doubt recalling some crucial moments — such as the time the Spartans cut the lead to 44-37, and Stephens clomped two free throws.
Or the time MSU cut the lead to seven again, 59-52, and Peplowski launched a shot that resembled a field-goal try. It thudded off the backboard.
“Wide right,” said a colleague.
This was a shame, really, because Tuesday’s game could have been great. The emotion was there. The shooting wasn’t. And I don’t mean to pick on State here. The Wolverines — who have been doing well this year in Big Ten free throws — relapsed to their old ways, missing 10 of 26 tries.
“It’s all about concentration,” said Jalen Rose, who saw his slip a few times during this one — including a pass he wasn’t expecting that almost smacked him in the face. Rose made only five of nine free throws. But at least he had a theory:
“It’s easy to stand here and say, ‘I can make every free throw I take.’ You and me will say that right now. But when you get out there, on the line, sometimes you have other things on your mind.”
“Like how you did the last time you went to the line. Or how you’re doing in the game. It’s pressure. And if you miss the first one, you start thinking even more. All those people yelling and everything.”
I asked Rose if he were to go into a gym, with no one watching, and shoot 100 free throws, how many would he make?
“Probably 85 of them,” he said.
Hmmm. Maybe next time these teams play, we should clear out after every foul. One positive in all this
Wait. The free throw shooting was not the only embarrassment on this night. The Wolverines, with a pretty safe lead in the final minute, almost gave the game back. Rose stepped on the line during an inbounds play. Turnover. Then Chris Webber tossed an inbounds pass, got it slapped back to him and instinctively caught it — while still out of bounds.
“It wasn’t a pretty ending to a hard-fought game,” Steve Fisher said. And it wasn’t always a pretty game. There were some MSU fans who sank pretty low, guys dressing as girls and marching with signs reading, “Juwan: I’m pregnant” and “Chris, You Said You Loved Me” and “Fab Five Floozies.”
So, all in all, this may not have been a classic Michigan- Michigan State affair. Perhaps, then, we should end on a more positive note, such as when Peplowski, a senior — who has played his share of these intrastate showdowns
— was asked for a comment on the Fab Five of Michigan:
“I want to say this about U-M: These games are more intense than any games I’ve ever played in. The rivalry is so great. People just think there are two different kinds of people, the kind in Ann Arbor and the kind in East Lansing. But those guys came up here and were very mature. They handled themselves well. And they beat us. You have to give them a lot of credit.”
Now. Get to the free throw line. There’s a rematch in March, you know.