The Michigan State Spartans managed to win for the first time in over a month on Saturday night with an ugly 66-56 effort over the last place Nebraska Cornhuskers. Aaron Henry and Josh Langford led the way with 16 and 18 points, respectively, on a combined 13-for-26 shooting from the floor, while making five three-pointers on 10 from three-point range.
But, the rest of the Spartans seemed to struggle as a group. No other Spartan exceeded six points, and Joey Hauer fouled out with no points and only one rebound in 14 minutes of play. MSU committed 22 turnovers, but did out-rebound the Huskers, 47-to-34.
Saturday’s game also marked the return of Gabe Brown to active duty as well as the second-straight start for Marcus Bingham Jr. Both players chipped in six points each and accounted for 11 rebounds combined. The energy that Brown and Bingham brought was a bright spot in the contest.
Following the game, head coach Tom Izzo addressed the media in the postgame Zoom press conference. In all honestly, Coach Izzo did not talk much about the game itself. He was happy to get the win, happy with Josh Langford’s leadership, disappointed in the turnovers, and not thrilled with the free throw disparity. Most of all, Coach Izzo seemed to be concerned with his team and how they are handling the complexities of the unique 2020-21 season.
The Spartans have clearly had a difficult month both on and off of the court. Coach Izzo mentioned a few times how little practice time the team has had recently.
“In the last 28 or 29 days, tomorrow and Monday will be the first back-to-back full practices we have had...Hopefully, we can start moving forward now,” Izzo said
This lack of practice is clearly impacting the team’s performance, both overall and in tonight’s game.
“We struggled to put everything together...At times we really moved the ball well, we made a couple nice shots, but those turnovers I think just started depleting our energy,” Izzo said.
Coach Izzo even hinted that there were signs prior to tip-off that it might be a rough night: “I did not feel that we were not ready to play today.. I though our locker room was dead. I thought that was one things that really bothered me before the game even started.”
Izzo is clearly struggling on how to best manage and guide his team through this most unusual of seasons, and his statements in the press conference told the story
“Everybody is real fragile now,” Izzo said. “I think that is one of the COVID hangovers.” Later, Izzo added, “Everything you do right now is ‘kid gloves’ and that part is hard...You have no idea what these kids are going through, and it’s getting tougher...unless you lived it and were here every day, it is hard to understand.”
But, despite these challenges, Izzo acknowledged that this is growing pressure on the team to right the ship. “Now, there is a little pressure on us, and you know what? I kind of like that. I think this team needs to have a little pressure on them. Maybe I need to have a little pressure on me.”
Kithier in Isolation
Junior forward Thomas Kithier is perhaps best known for his ability to disappear behind the defense and reappear right under the basketball for a lay-up. But, Kithier performed a different kind of disappearing act on Saturday night. He played seven minutes in the first half, but then was not seen again either in the game or even in the bench area.
In the postgame press conference, Coach Izzo explained that Kithier had told the trainer that he wasn’t feeling well and he was immediately removed from the game and put into isolation as a precaution. Izzo mentioned that Kithier had tested negative for COVID in the morning, but was now undergoing PCR testing to make sure that he is not the latest member of the team to contract the virus.
Coach Izzo seemed optimistic that Thomas was simply a little under the weather. In an ordinary year, if a player wasn’t feeling well, they might just not play as much or they might simply rest on the bench for the rest of the game. In 2020-21, any sign of illness triggers a cascade of events where coaches, referees, and university administrators are all notified immediately. The additional stress that this reality is placing on the staff and players cannot be understated.
Gabe Brown, Back in Action
One of the bright spots in the game was the return of Gabe Brown to the playing group. Coach Izzo praised his energy and was especially pleased with Brown’s team-high seven rebounds.
When asked about his stamina, Brown said, “I was tired for like a minute, but my second wind just came and I just kept rolling after that.” Despite the lack of practice time and the lay-off, Brown was able to come off from the bench and give a solid 18 minutes.
In the postgame press conference, Brown was also able to give some insight into what he went through having COVID. His symptoms seemed to be very mild. He only reported having a headache and losing his sense of taste and smell. The worst part was just being away from the game that he loves.
“It was bad,” Brown said. “There were nights I couldn’t sleep because I wanted to be in the gym so bad. Basketball is all I got. It is the only thing that makes me happy....I work out 24/seven....I am in the gym all the time....That is how you are supposed to work; that is how you are supposed to grind.”
Other Notes and Quotes
- Coach Izzo generally seemed happy with Rocket Watts performance...until he started turning the ball over.
- Not much was said about Joey Hauser’s tough night, other than the fact that he seems to be in foul trouble “all of the time.”
- Coach Izzo was clearly not happy with some of the shots that Marcus Bingham Jr. took during the game. Izzo chose his words carefully and said, “some players tend to struggle to self-evaluate.”
Check out the links below for the full post game press conference.