The Michigan State Spartans basketball program kicked off the long-awaited 2020-2021 season tonight with an 83-67 win over a short-handed Eastern Michigan Eagles team — EMU was down six players due to a mix of injuries and COVID-19 contact tracing.
The Spartans got off to a bit of a slow start, and turnover issues plagued the team throughout the game, but at the end of the day, MSU cruised to a victory.
After sitting out last season, Marquette transfer forward Joey Hauser made his Spartan debut, and graduate student shooting guard Josh Langford played his first game in nearly two years. There was some rust to shake off, but the two eventually settled in as the game moved forward.
Coach Izzo now speaking:— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) November 26, 2020
“Opening night is exciting, especially for Josh (Langford) and Joey (Hauser),” Izzo said joking about the nine turnovers between the two.
Izzo praises Foster Loyer, Aaron Henry and Marcus Bingham for their play. Likes the camaraderie from the team.
“Opening night (is) exciting, especially for Josh (Langford) and Joey (Hauser) who haven’t played in a couple years and that was a little bit of a tribute to the nine turnovers between them,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said jokingly. “But there were some serious positives and there were a few negatives, and those negatives were things that we gotta correct, we gotta get better at. Turnovers were one of them.”
Overall for Langford and Hauser, despite the turnovers and early mental mistakes, Izzo was encouraged with their play after such a long hiatus. Izzo expected these types of moments from those two players who have been away from the game for so long, but knows they’re only going to get better from here.
“That’s gonna happen to Josh (Langford) and Joey (Hauser) for a little bit, but I love the way Joey bounced back second half — probably had an average game (for his standards) and he was a rebound (away) from having a double-double,” Izzo said. “So, he and Josh, the turnovers will get better. I think Joey was sucking up to the head coach — he threw me two passes on the bench, that’s not gonna get him more playing time, but he thinks it is, so I’ll have to have a little chit-chat with him. But in all fairness and honestly, I was pleased by how he and Josh played considering the time off they’ve had.”
Izzo said that he was very “impressed with the camaraderie” of the team. He was very happy with junior point guard Foster Loyer, who had a career-high 20 points, including 17 points in the first half. Loyer made six of his 10 three-point attempts, and also made both of his free throws. Izzo was also pleased with junior Aaron Henry, who led the team in assists with seven, but adds that he does want to get Henry more shots moving forward — he had just three shot attempts and finished with six points.
When asked more specifically about Loyer, Izzo said he wasn’t surprised, as he has been boasting about Loyer’s improvements all offseason long — although Loyer has been struggling recently in practice.
“I’ve been seeing this all summer and all fall, except for the last two weeks,” Izzo said. “The poor guy the last two weeks hasn’t made a shot (in practice). We were almost joking about because he’s probably the best shooter (on the team) and he just wasn’t making shots. To his credit and his competitiveness, he made shots (tonight) and we got him good shots. I think that was a double-plus.”
Izzo also praised big men Marcus Bingham Jr., and Mady Sissoko (Izzo then made a joke that the ball is still being tracked down after Sissoko’s massive block). He called Thomas Kithier “solid as a rock” as well.
Another guy who had a good game was junior Gabe Brown. Brown had 12 points off the bench, all of which came from three-point shots (he made four on six attempts). Izzo looks at Brown as a guy who can provide instant offense off the bench and said he wants to make Brown “the best sixth man in college basketball.”
Izzo says he’s going to try to make Gabe Brown “the best sixth man in college basketball.”— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) November 26, 2020
“Starting is not always the end-all, be-all — what’s important is who’s playing and what minutes they’re playing,” Izzo said.
As is the case at every college stadium and arena due to the global pandemic, the Breslin Center was empty of fans. Izzo and some of the players mentioned that the atmosphere was quite a bit different without the Izzone rocking, but that the marketing team did a great job making do with the situation. Izzo said they were still able to give the players an “atmosphere” with the music and the DJ, and felt like they “made a house a home.”
Izzo says he feels “pretty good” after coming back from COVID.— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) November 26, 2020
He credits EMU coach Rob Murphy and the EMU team for playing hard and not canceling the game after they were down six players.
Now recovering from COVID, Izzo just returned to the team after quarantining for about two weeks. He said he felt “pretty good,” but did also say he felt “a little more fatigued than normal today,” and praises MSU’s medical team.
Izzo also was highly appreciative of Eastern Michigan head coach Rob Murphy and the Eagles team for not canceling the game after losing several players. He thinks EMU will be a competitive team when it gets back to full strength.
Overall, Izzo was just happy to have some semblance of normalcy back in what has been a whirlwind offseason.
“All in all, it was a night of basketball and I think that’s what we all needed,” Izzo said.
Several other players spoke with the media following the game. You can listen to their comments below, as well as Izzo’s full remarks: