The Michigan State basketball team (2-2) did a lot of good things in their 78-77 nail-biting win over Florida Gulf Coast (1-3) on Sunday night. They shot the ball over 50 percent from the field and from 3-point range. They got senior guard Eron Harris open and involved in the offense early and often en route to his MSU career best 31 points on 6-6 from three. ‘
They even got to the foul line 33 times, something MSU head coach Tom Izzo harped on his players in practice this past week.
That’s the good. Here’s the bad.
33 times to the free-throw line is an impressive feat. Converting on just 57 percent of those chances is worrisome for an Michigan State team that has struggled with connecting at the charity stripe the past three seasons under Izzo.
The Spartans also showcased their lack of interior presence –– or better phrased the necessity of Gavin Schilling –– after getting out-rebounded 41-29 (14-6 on offensive rebounds) and giving up 24 second chance points. The toughness wasn’t there for the Spartans, and Izzo isn’t afraid to let everyone know it.
“we are just playing sissy ball right now,” Izzo said. “That’s the way I’m coaching (in practice), because I’m worried about injuries and losing another player. I’m now not going to worry about that. We are softer than we have ever been, and the first guy I look at is me. I want to be honest, I don’t give a damn if we are walking on our hands and knees, we are going to practice harder and play harder.”
Regardless, Michigan State was able to squeak out a win against a very good Florida Gulf Coast team. The preseason favorites to win the Atlantic Sun conference played a Baylor team, who recently whooped No. 4 Oregon, to a nine-point loss and had the game tied with less than two minutes remaining. They also played without Marc-Eddy Norelia, the leading scorer from last year’s squad who averaged a near double-double last season (17.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG)
“I told my team before the game that this team (FGCU) would be one of the four or five best teams that we will play all preseason,” Izzo said. “I believed it before the game and I definitely believe it after the game. I think we beat a very, very good team that played pretty well too.”
FGCU, whom Izzo also said would “definitely be in the NCAA Tournament this year,” had the formula to win. They shot 47 percent from three and physically outperformed the Spartans on the glass and in the paint (40 points in paint compared to MSU’s 22). UCF transfer guard Brandon Goodwin made big play after big play at the end of the first half to keep it close and in the second half to make the upset seem more like a reality than a pipe dream.
Michigan State seemed a little sluggish from the opening tip. Phenom freshman Miles Bridges didn’t score until the 3:49 mark in the freshman half, finishing with 13 points and seven rebounds in the game. Sophomores Kenny Goins and Matt McQuaid were in foul trouble most of the night due to mental lapses and slightly missed assignments. After just three games, it appeared as though fatigue was already finding a home in the youthful Spartans.
Traveling to Hawaii to play Arizona, then back to East Lansing and off to New York for the Champions Classic. Then back home again, playing a game on Friday and another Sunday night. In addition, Harris saw 35 minutes on the floor Sunday, which might have contributed to his four missed free-throws in the game’s final five minutes, including two with just 3.4 left in the game.
And perhaps most importantly, Bridges has played over 35 minutes in every game. The Spartans cannot lose him on the floor, as he is the engine that will make this team run in the Bahamas and beyond.
“We just gotta stay focused, we were kind of running around out there, not knowing what we were doing, so we just gotta stay focused, continue to trust film and trust the process.”
Michigan State packs their bags for a flight late Monday evening to the Bahamas, where they will play three straight games on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Even the homecoming for junior guard Lourawls “Tum-Tum” Nairn Jr. might not be enough to energize three victories in that stretch.
The Spartans will have to know what they are doing out there, as they face St. John’’s followed by potential matchups against No. 20 Baylor and No. 10 Louisville, as well as VCU and Wichita State who both earned votes in the AP poll this week.