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Lansing State Journal columnist Graham Couch, Detroit Free Press / LSJ MSU beat writer Chris Solari and Free Press columnist Shawn Windsor break down what went wrong for the Spartans against Duke and where MSU needs to improve.
Graham Couch / Lansing State Journal

CHICAGO – Gavin Schilling looked strong until foul trouble hit early and often. Same with Jaren Jackson Jr.

But then they heard the whistles. And Tom Izzo pulled them to the bench.

It proved costly, Michigan State’s coach later admitted. The second-ranked Spartans lost to No. 1 Duke on Tuesday, 88-81, in the Champions Classic at United Center. And the Hall of Fame coach, sullen in defeat, saw his own decisions as one of the reasons.

“We just got so many guys in foul trouble,” Izzo said. “And I thought that was …”

He trailed off into a long pause, took a breath and continued, “that was part of the problem tonight.”

Izzo said Monday that it might not have a full grasp on his playing rotation “for a couple of weeks yet.” The Spartans’ 21 fouls Tuesday compounded that, with Izzo having to move players out of position to help cover spots when both Schilling and Jackson picked up four fouls.

That limited inside options for Izzo, and MSU got outrebounded, 46-34.

“Gav was doing great for us, Jaren was doing great for us. And they both got into foul trouble,” Miles Bridges said. “So it was tough to rebound.”

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No. 2 Michigan State missed its opportunity against No. 1 Duke in the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, in Chicago. Video by Chris Solari/DFP

Schilling finished with two points and two rebounds but played just 6 minutes. Jackson had 19 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in 24 minutes.

Izzo also blamed himself for playing both swingman Bridges (37 minutes) and point guard Cassius Winston (32) too much against the Blue Devils’ swarming 2-3 zone. Those two, along with Jackson, combined for 14 of the Spartans’ 17 turnovers.

“A lot of coaching mistakes in this game. … So I have to take the blame for that, that’s my job,” Izzo said. “So I thought the poor substitution on my part led to some of it. I thought we looked a little fatigued, and I thought their defense – a couple of those passes were thrown right to them. I mean, it just didn’t make sense.”

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Bagley hurt

Duke, meanwhile, had its own issues in the paint.

Freshman phenom Marvin Bagley III was off to a strong start with four points and six rebounds when he took a finger to the eye from teammate Javin DeLaurier while battling MSU’s Ben Carter for a rebound with 10:09 left in the first half. Bagley did not return.

More: Michigan State has talent to win it all, but will it have temperament?

Duke also had DeLaurier, forward Wendell Carter Jr. and guard Gary Trent Jr. pick up four fouls.

“We won it with guys who played with four fouls for long periods of time,” Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Bagley, our most talented player, he’s got a scratched eye, and we didn’t want to bring him back in the second half.

“So a lot of adversity and beating a great team, not a bad night for us. Pretty good win.”

Zone-d out

Krzyzewski has been using a 2-3 zone this season. Tuesday against MSU, Duke spent all but one possession in it.

With long-armed guards Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval at the top of it and rangy big men down low, the Blue Devils spent much of the game double-teaming Bridges on the wing when he’d catch the ball, forcing him farther from the 3-point arc as the game went along.

More: Couch: Michigan State needs Miles Bridges to be more like Grayson Allen

After going just 1 of 3 in opening half, Bridges finished 7 of 15 from the floor and made 5 of 10 3-point attempts. He added five rebounds, four assists and four blocks, however he also committed five turnovers.

“We didn’t really try to double, it just worked out that way,” Krzyzewski said. “He put them on his back. If they would’ve won, it would’ve been Bridges. Time after time, he hit crushing shots. … What a great player.”

The zone worked beyond just bottling up Bridges for long stretches. The Spartans struggled to penetrate off the dribble and getting sloppy with passes at times into the paint.

“It’s hard to simulate a 2-3 like that or a zone like that with that many athletes and that length,” said Winston, who had five turnovers with his 11 assists. “Out there, you just have to feel your way around it and figure out where you can and can’t get shots. I think toward the end, we started to chop it up a little bit and got good shots, just gotta knock down more.”

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Download our Spartans Xtra app for free on Apple and Android devices!