EAST LANSING -- An exasperated Tom Izzo stood at the podium early Wednesday morning and said his team was "outcoached, outplayed, and outworked" by Duke in a lopsided 87-75 loss. The Spartans head coach, once again a victim to a Mike Krzyzewski-led team, was stating the obvious.
The Blue Devils didn't just make a statement-- they exacted revenge in a clinical dismantling. They did so without third-leading scorer Cassius Stanley. They did so in the Breslin Center, a building that's yearned for a return visit from college basketball's bluest blue-blood since 2003.
Duke ruined a night honoring Draymond Green, whose number 23 jersey was raised to the rafters at halftime. That number got there in large part due to an unwavering commitment to playing hard, fighting for every inch. That same spirit was in short supply from Izzo's current side.
"I'm embarrassed," Izzo said. "I'm embarrassed that a player that I love came back here and probably laid some of the groundwork with Mateen Cleaves on toughness and I don't think we played with that tonight."
The Spartans may have sent Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett off to the NBA with an upset in the Elite 8 last spring, but Coach K's newest prize recruit, Vernon Carey, proved to be an unstoppable force in the paint, pouring in 26 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in 25 minutes of action. The freshman southpaw and former Izzo target bullied a Spartans front line from the opening whistle with power and grace. He looked every bit of a National Player of the Year candidate and perfectly poised.
"He's bigger than the other guys we've played this year," MSU forward Marcus Bingham said. "You try to stay straight up but he was finishing." And Carey did finish, sometimes through defenders, oftentimes a single one, which was not the plan.
"We didn't play him one-on-one, it [just] looked like it," Izzo said. "He's a load down there, especially if he's going to jump right through you. Give the credit to him."
The Blue Devils were equally tenacious on the defensive end, blocking 11 shots, almost all of them within arm's reach of the goal. Whereas Duke was assertive and decisive with openings, the Spartans appeared waiting for the next swat to come. Forward Xavier Tillman said it was reminiscent of last year's Final Four loss in which Texas Tech suffocated MSU in the paint.
The visitors' revenge was also fueled by standout performances from veterans who were left stunned on that Washington D.C. court after Kenny Goins' last-minute three-pointer last March.
Tre Jones, who scored four points in the tournament matchup, dominated his matchup with Cassius Winston. The sophomore scored 20 points, dished out 12 assists, and had three steals while holding Winston to 4-of-14 shooting. Jones was also instrumental in both facets of the running game.
Duke outscored MSU 17-4 on the break and put a governor on a car that wants to go fast, making it idle and bog down before sputtering to a stop.
"We had a lot more fastbreak points than I could have ever imagined and so much of that had to do with Tre and how our big guys ran the floor," Mike Krzyzewski said. "We probably got an equal amount -- maybe even a bit more in transition, which I wouldn't have bet on that. Not that I bet."
Jack White, scoreless last March, tallied seven points, six boards, two blocks and three steals. Javin DeLaurier, 5-for-5 last year, once again went 5-for-5.
Before the game, Green spoke of circling this date as one that would work for his big day, and looking forward to it. Duke played as though they'd had the same night circled on their calendars too. Michigan State didn't appear to circle anything, and took one square on the chin.