Despite the win, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo was not pleased with his team, particularly because of the turnovers. The Spartans gave the ball away 19 times, including having 10 turnovers less than 10 minutes into gameplay.
Following the game, Izzo was looking for some reinforcements from within the press room to help the Spartans against the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday.
“Which one of you won’t turn the ball over and wants to stat at 2:30 on Saturday afternoon (against Michigan)?” Izzo joked with the media to start out his postgame press conference.
Turnovers have been an issue for Michigan State all season long, and Izzo let his frustration with his team’s sloppy play be well-known. He said the Spartans’ preparation ahead of the game went very well.
“I’m frustrated with (the turnovers),” Izzo said. “I said there’s four facets of the process of playing a game. There’s the practice side of it. Then there’s the game day shoot-around and everything — cause you really see if a team’s focused in on what they’re doing. Then there’s the pregame, which means you get here early — some guys sit and think, some guys go out and shoot — but you get yourself mentally ready to play. And then (there’s) the game. Those are the four. (We had) two great practices and a very good game day shoot-around — according to my staff, I don’t see what goes on before the game — but everything was good and then we entered the game (and it didn’t go as well).”
Izzo praised Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg and his basketball team for the way the Cornhuskers played and the team’s ability to turn the Spartans over, but his frustration with MSU’s unforced errors was evident throughout his time speaking to the media.
In more positive news, Izzo was quite happy with the way senior forward Gabe Brown played. Brown finished the game with 14 points, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Izzo also praised freshman guard Max Christie, who had a game-high (and career-high) 21 points, as well as a couple other Spartans. But overall, Izzo knows that even though his squad has won eight games in a row, it still has a lot of things to fix.
“Gabe Brown was the brightest spot while only scoring 14 points, but I thought Gabe was all over the court,” Izzo said. “We worked hard on our weak-side defense. We worked hard on help defense. I thought that was Gabe’s best game in a Spartan uniform if you look at everything, and I thought Max Christie was awfully good and I thought Malik Hall was pretty good, and Tyson (Walker) wasn’t bad — (he’s) gotta look for a shot a little bit more. And then we kind of drifted down a little bit...I don’t want to say any more until I look at the film, but the eye test wasn’t very good.”
Izzo later elaborated a little bit more on the play of both Brown and Christie. With Brown, Izzo and the staff recently challenged him to step up his game.
“I was really proud of his game, he was having fun,” Izzo said about Brown. “He was having energy, he was playing hard. We were a little disappointed in Gabe (Brown) last week because he just wasn’t bringing it defensively.
“To his credit, he does want to be a complete player…he started handling the ball better, he started making some better passes. His defense was great. He had a couple of great rebounds.”
When asked about his overall game against Nebraska, Brown credited his coaches and teammates for his success, and while he felt he played well, he also is still looking forward to improving.
“That’s all credit to the coaches and my teammates,” Brown said about his play on Wednesday. “They’ve been forcing me to play more defense and be in the gaps more, just helping each other out and that’s what I’ve been trying to do the past week is working on my defense. I feel like I did a good job. I messed up in some areas, which I still need to work on, but I’m just happy I completed all the things we needed to do to get it done.”
As for Christie, Izzo is pleased with the freshman’s development thus far, and knows he will only get better from here.
“I‘m really proud of him,” Izzo said. “If you know him at all, which, unfortunately, because of COVID, practices don’t get open enough — unbelievable kid. He just works his tail off and he picks up things like ‘that.’ He learns to listen and he listens to learn and when you talk to him, it’s like, engraved in his head. I am shocked how good he’s been defensively. He’s rebounding the ball. He had that tip-in dunk...When you’re rebounding the ball, when you’re defending the best player (in Bryce McGowens), when you’re scoring 21 points, when I want the ball in your hands at the end of the game from the free-throw line, that’s a pretty complete player.”
Christie, who has struggled with his shot a bit throughout the season, had an efficient night. His 21 points led the team in scoring, and he made seven of his nine shots, including three of his four attempts from three-point range. When asked about his early struggles compared to his performance on Wednesday night, Christie had this to say:
“I know it’s all going to come with time,” Christie said. “Even in the first half of the season, beginning of the season, when I didn’t shoot as well, I knew it wasn’t just going to happen overnight. So, I made sure that I stuck with it and kept getting in the gym working on my shot. I know that I’m going to reap the fruits of my labor eventually as time goes on. I think this game tonight was one of those nights where the work I put in and the trust I put in myself, my coaches and my teammates really showed.”
In addition to Izzo, Brown was very complimentary of Christie’s play as well.
“That boy Max is a problem,” Brown said with a smile. “But (in all seriousness) he just got to his spots and he played with confidence like he always does. He was aggressive and stayed within himself in the offense. We need that out of him...I’m just proud of him.”
Junior point guard Tyson Walker appreciates the play of both Brown and Christie, especially on defense, which makes his job easier.
“It’s definitely easier (to play defense) because you know you got other people working just as hard as you, right behind you (on the wing),” Walker said of Brown and Christie. “It allows me to pressure the ball, knowing that I got a lot of help from both of them.”
Marcus Bingham Jr. only played 19 minutes total in the game, and was notably absent for much of the second half, playing in only eight of the final 20 minutes, despite not being in foul trouble. He had a quiet game with just four points and four rebounds. Izzo gave a little bit of context into the staff’s decision to sit Bingham for such long periods.
“If a guy doesn’t play with any energy, they’re probably not going to play,” Izzo said about Bingham. “They (assistant coaches in charge of subs) must have decided that he wasn’t playing with enough energy. It’s a shame, because Marcus (Bingham) has been really good. It’s all part of this new era where ‘I’ll do what I want when I want,’ and maybe they will, it’s just not gonna be here.”
While Izzo wasn’t thrilled with the overall performance, he is happy to get a win and remain unbeaten in Big Ten play.
“It’s great when you can complain after a win,” Izzo said.
Next up, Michigan State will take on Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time.