The sole senior on this year’s Michigan State Spartans team certainly has that iconic ability to polarize the public when it comes to his playing abilities and off-the-court antics. But Sunday, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo acknowledged that fine line can often produce some incredible results.
Nix, who battled back from a suspension and arrest before the season to become one of the team’s captains and leaders in the months before the opener, had one of the best performances of his career on Saturday when the No. 20 Spartans (11-2) took on the Texas Longhorns (7-5) in East Lansing. Michigan State would win the match up at the Breslin Center 67-56, but it was the stunning 25 points scored by Nix, along with 11 rebounds, that would have the fans doing a double take.
Coach Izzo, who has always had a stern affinity for the big man, made it clear that despite some of the young star’s troubles over the past year, he has always appreciated his effort to bounce back and seal a tremendous effort for his fellow players.
“Nix and I have a love-hate relationship; I love to hate him sometimes,” Izzo said. “He gets frustrated with himself sometimes, too. One of the hardest things to do is take criticism. But he has grown up a lot.”
For Nix, the career-game comes as no true surprise to him, since each new effort is chance to bounce back and prove that he’s much more than just a big man on the court with a sketchy past.
“I didn’t get a scholarship here because they wanted to give it to me,” Nix said. “I had to be doing something right. Today, they didn’t double-team. I hit my first shot and tried to dominate the rest of the day.”
In an odd reversal of roles, helping Nix along the way was the usual high-scoring pair of Keith Appling, who had 14 points, and Adreian Payne, who added 13.
At one point in the match up, a bit of a scuffle between Nix and a Longhorn player quickly-developed when a tumble-and tie-up led to a few cross words from the Spartan senior that resulted in a technical on Nix.
“It was disrespectful to step across my face that way,” Nix said of the row. “That was an Allen Iverson move. I think I deserved a tech. But we responded.”
All-in-all, it was a game that won’t soon be forgotten by Nix or Spartan fans alike. Anytime you get to see a player of Nix’s size and athleticism perform at their peak, you know you’ve seen something quite special.
You can follow MSU Examiner, Michael Ferro, at twitter.com/MichaelFerro.