The Michigan State Spartans men’s basketball team hit the hardwood on Saturday evening, and it went a lot better the the MSU football program’s weekend did. The hoops team improved its record to 3-1 after defeating the Eastern Michigan Eagles with ease, by a final of 83 to 59. Michigan State has now won three games in a row, after dropping the season opener to the Kansas Jayhawks.
After the game, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo and a few players spoke to the media. While the Spartans won by 24 points against the Eagles, Izzo was not too pleased with the performance and knows his team still has plenty of work to do as the season progresses.
Eastern Michigan is lead by head coach Stan Heath, who was an assistant at MSU under Izzo from 1996 until 2001. Izzo had high praise for Heath, and actually thought that his former understudy out-coached him on Saturday.
“Well, first of all, don’t get enamored by the (final) score,” Izzo said. “You always have this pupil versus the teacher (thing) whenever you play one of your former assistants. Let me promise you that the pupil (Heath) out-coached the teacher (Izzo). I did not appreciate the way my team played and I did not appreciate the way that I got them ready. I did not think we were ready to play early.”
Eastern Michigan assistant coach Drew Denisco also worked as a video coordinator for Izzo at Michigan State for six seasons before joining Heath’s staff at EMU this year, so the Eagles’ coaches are plenty familiar with MSU.
“So, I’m not real happy with the win,” Izzo said. “I’m too late in my career to just sit and say ‘We won a game, let’s feel good about it.’ Too much of that last year. It’s about getting better every game, doing a better job, improving on the things that you did not do as well the last game — So, I guess you can look at our turnovers as an improvement, from 20 to 10. I thought Eastern (Michigan) and Stan (Heath) did a phenomenal job...So, all in all, it was a win against a team that I think is going to win a lot of games.”
Forward Joey Hauser dressed for the game, but did not play due to a minor calf issue. When asked about Hauser’s status, Izzo didn’t seem to think it will be a long-term issue.
“Well, he’s got a pull, strain I guess it is, in his calf,” Izzo said about Hauser’s injury. “At the Butler game, he just couldn’t get any lift. That was part of the reason why he missed a lot of those wide-open threes. So, I talked to my trainer, we had an MRI and it’s just a little, no tears or anything, just a strain. But with three games coming up in three days (in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament), I made the choice to say, ‘Hey, I just can’t play you tonight, Joey.’ I mean he understood, he suited up so in case a couple guys got hurt, he could’ve played.”
With Hauser out, team captain Malik Hall drew the start at the four-spot. Hall played well with 15 points and nine rebounds before fouling out, however, Hall got off to a slow start and Izzo noticed. After a while, Hall seemed to light a fire within himself to help lead his team to a victory.
“Malik (Hall) is one of the better players on my team,” Izzo said. “He can play different positions, he can guard different people, it sure didn’t look like it early. I think that Malik got upset with Malik. He was different in the huddles, and he was different on the floor. Last three quarters of that game, he could’ve been our best player. Marcus (Bingham) did some great things and the other guys played good. But Malik Hall, he drove it, he shot a three, he made some post moves, he defended a lot better. He helped on some people.”
With Hauser out of the lineup, Hall knew he had to step up, and as a captain of the team, he knows his role and responsibility to his teammates.
“I think it’s important to our team,” Hall said about being able to step up. “Some coaches have been telling me since the beginning of the season I’m really important, I’m going to be a key to helping us win big and win good games. (I) just try and do as much as I can to be the best I can when I’m on the court and then lead when I’m not on the court, and when I am on the court, (I) just do my best, and that’s something that I’m continually working at.”
Marcus Bingham Jr. could not be stopped in this game. He had a career-high 19 points, and tied a career high with 12 rebounds, while adding four blocks and an assist. Bingham has now scored in the double-digits in all four games to begin the 2021-2022 season.
Izzo knows how much potential Bingham has, and he continues to push Bingham until the senior center gets where he is capable of getting to because the sky seems to be the limit for Bingham.
“I’m always pushing Marcus (Bingham), we all know that,” Izzo said. “Some of you might not like it, I hate to say it, but it doesn’t bother me because he’s got so much to give, and when he does the things that he needs to do, he’s very effective and very good. When he does the things that he wants to do, he’s not as effective and not as good. He played probably damn good until a couple of stretches, and that’s the consistency that you’d hope a senior has. So, I’m going to push him on that, too. So, I didn’t appreciate that.”
As for Bingham, it’s been a long road, but he is taking on his new role as one of the better players on the team seriously, and is working toward getting better every day.
“It’s doing what I’m doing in practice, you know, just translating into the game,” Bingham said. “What we work on in practice, about keeping the ball moving and stuff like that, and then me being more active, getting offensive rebounds and just thinking of ways I can score in various ways.”
As for Bingham’s relationship with Izzo, who is constantly pushing him to get better, Bingham truly appreciates the way Izzo has coached him and helped him improve.
“Since I’ve been here, (Coach Izzo has) always wanted the best for me,” Bingham said. “This summer with me being a senior and this being my last year here, he’s really taken the time with me, acknowledging the accomplishments and stuff I have, but harping on stuff I can get better at. Just keeping (Izzo’s) voice in my head is something that I can think about if I’m doing something good or if there’s something I can do better.”
Izzo also remarked that he wants Gabe Brown — who has tremendous length and athleticism — to rebound the ball better. Brown only had one board on the night, and Izzo specifically mentioned former Spartan wings such as Miles Bridges, Denzel Valentine, Jason Richardson, Morris Peterson, Alan Anderson and Maurice Ager as wings who would “rebound their brains out.”
On the defensive end, Izzo wasn’t too impressed with the overall performance, but mentioned that he thought the two true freshmen — guards Jaden Akins and Max Christie — were MSU’s best defenders on the night. Izzo said that Christie “doesn’t do a lot wrong” and he’s been “really pleased” with both him and Akins very early into their careers.
As for Christie, he is adjusting to the college game quickly and knows he’ll continue to get better.
“It was a surprise to me, but I feel a lot more comfortable than I thought I would for my first four games,” Christie said. “I just feel really comfortable, I feel evolved, I feel like I belong.”
All in all, it was victory for Michigan State, but Izzo knows his team has a lot of work to do to get to where it needs to be. He is well aware of the potential the Spartans have this season, though.
“We have some work to do,” Izzo said. “We’re not a great basketball team yet, but I think we have the makings of what could be a very good basketball team. If we get a little more out of our point (guards), a little more out of our wings and Marcus (Bingham) just trusts the fact on what he can do well, he can really, really be a force down there.”
As for Mel Tucker and the football team’s tough day against Ohio State, Izzo said he wasn’t worried about the result of one game and his advice to Tucker would just be “Keep doing what you’re doing.”
Michigan State will now head out of the country to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, which begins with a noon Eastern Time tip-off against Loyola Chicago on Wednesday — a trip the players and coaches are looking forward to this week.